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Secrecy over DND contracts prevents public from determining whether work is actually being done: defence union

Local Input~ IS2009-4001-03 06 March 2009 Ottawa, Ontario Canadian Forces, Combat Camera  Canadian Forces National Defence Headquarters.  101 Colonel By Dr, Ottawa, Ontario.  Photo By: Cpl David Cribb
ADD: DND NDHQ ND HQ  DNDHQ /pws  0916 dnd centre
Local Input~ IS2009-4001-03 06 March 2009 Ottawa, Ontario Canadian Forces, Combat Camera Canadian Forces National Defence Headquarters. 101 Colonel By Dr, Ottawa, Ontario. Photo By: Cpl David Cribb ADD: DND NDHQ ND HQ DNDHQ /pws 0916 dnd centre

As much as $250 million in maintenance, cleaning and other contracts at military bases can’t be properly scrutinized by the public to determine if the work is actually being done, warns the main union representing employees at National Defence.

Attempts to gather data on how much is being paid out and whether the work is being performed has been undercut by provisions in federal law, which allows private firms to shield such information from public scrutiny, according to a report released by the Union of National Defence Employees on Monday.

“Without transparency it is impossible to know whether work is being done and whether tax payer are getting value for money,” the report noted.

At most Canadian military bases, the facilities management, cleaning, food preparation, grass cutting and trades work are contracted out to private firms. Previously the work had been done by federal public servants. In some cases, services critical to the military’s missions, such as helicopter maintenance and airport management, are also in the hands of the private sector.

But many government sources of information for such contracts are incomplete or inaccessible, the UNDE report points out. Some of the more general data collected for the union’s report came from publicly available tenders and contacts that DND posted on government platforms.

But the specific information related to those contacts and the contracts themselves must be obtained using the access to information law — an approach that is often blocked to protect business interests, UNDE officials said.

They provided the example of attempts to get information about maintenance at Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay, N.L. The statement of work in the contract between the firm, Serco, and DND, has clear provisions for quarterly audits to be conducted by the base commander and for written responses to complaints about service.

But when the union submitted requests under the access to information law for these audits and written responses they were told by Public Services and Procurement Canada that DND had that information. But then DND claimed the information was with the contractor. The company, which isn’t covered under the access to information law, doesn’t have to respond with the information.

Union officials question how it is possible that neither DND nor PSPC has copies of the required audits and wonder whether the audits were even done.

UNDE national president June Winger said the Public Service Alliance of Canada and UNDE are calling on the government to stop contracting out work at Canadian Forces bases and to bring those jobs back into the public service. “We’re going to continue and keep moving on this,” she said.

The union argues that contacting out is more expensive and less efficient than using public service employees, and in the end the money ends up in the pockets of shareholders and company owners, many who are foreign firms.

UNDE also recommends that changes be made to the access to information law to prevent information from being censored to protect the companies. “This is a roadblock to public transparency and fortifies corporate secrecy while paying out the large sums of taxpayer dolls to enrich private shareholders,” the report noted.

The Liberal government ran on a promise of “openness and transparency” but under its watch the access to information law has significantly decreased in effectiveness and during the new coronavirus pandemic it has almost ceased to function, say the government’s critics.

DND recently responded to this newspaper that it can’t determine when access requests will be processed.

Last week, Health Minister Patty Hajdu brushed off calls by Conservative MPs to release federal records on the government’s response to the pandemic by claiming that Canadians aren’t asking for resources to be put into freedom of information processing staff.

Information commissioner Caroline Maynard, the access to information watchdog, tweeted Friday she was very disappointed by Hajdu’s statement. Maynard noted she has sounded the alarm on the need for strong leadership in government and an increase in resources to process the public’s requests for information.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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