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VIHA to alter method of awarding contracts

Nov 24 2011

Vancouver Island Health Authority says it will change the way it awards contracts after a public backlash over a contract awarded without competition to a friend of Premier Christy Clark.

"We've already come out and admitted that it was a mistake and we've taken corrective action to cancel the contract and we'll be dealing with it in a fashion that it will never happen again," said Don Hubbard, chairman of VIHA's board of directors.

"I know those are words, but we'll make sure it

doesn't happen again."

VIHA backpedalled this week to cancel a contract it gave Stewart Muir, the husband of one of Clark's deputy ministers, after the Times Colonist revealed that the health authority did not follow its own guidelines.

VIHA awarded Muir the job without posting the contract publicly. It did not accept any applications other than those from hand-picked candidates approached by the health authority.

Muir's vice-president of communications contract would have been worth $161,800.

VIHA's "fair business" policy says contracts cannot be awarded without competition if they are worth more than $75,000. The policy does allow for exemptions in certain cases involving physicians, computer technology and urgent time-sensitive situations. Each exemption requires approval from VIHA president and chief executive officer Howard Waldner.

Waldner admitted he made a mistake in approving the Muir contract.

Health Minister Mike de Jong sidestepped questions Tuesday on whether Waldner should resign.

Premier Christy Clark, who has denied any involvement in the contract process, responded to questions on CKNW radio Wednesday that Waldner should have known better and should be disciplined.

"Well, they corrected it," she said. "So, you're right, they should know better than doing that crap, you're absolutely right."

VIHA's board is not looking for Waldner's resignation. "Howard has our full confidence," said Hubbard. "Howard's leadership is very strong. People make mistakes. He's human."

Hubbard, the president of a Nanaimo-based consulting company, was appointed VIHA chairman in November last year. He said he is not aware of any other cases in which VIHA directly awarded contracts without competition and in doing so violated its own policies.

He brushed aside suggestions that VIHA might want to check to see how widespread its contract-award problems might be.

"I'm sure we'll have a conversation, but I doubt we'll want to start digging. We want to go forward, we don't want to go backwards here."

The next board meeting is 9 a.m. Nov. 30 at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. Meetings are open to the public.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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