"twice as big a scandal as the [Canadian] sponsorship scandal"

PUBLICATION: National Post
DATE: 2006.05.12
EDITION: National
BYLINE: Allan Woods
SOURCE: CanWest News Service
ILLUSTRATION: Black & White Photo: Garry Breitkreuz.

Contract is registry's 'smoking gun': Public works investigating: Conservative MP says $273M computer deal hidden from Parliament

OTTAWA - The former Liberal government "broke every rule in the book" when it signed a $273-million computer contract for the federal gun registry -- now the subject of a "stop-work" order -- and never reported the costs or terms of the deal to Parliament, a long-time Conservative gun-registry critic alleges.

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz, who discovered the existence of the 15-year contract last fall, said it was never reported to Parliament in government estimates on spending, or disclosed by the Treasury Board, which controls the government purse.

A Tory source referred to the 383-page contract, which was obtained by Mr. Breitkreuz under the Access to Information Act and provided to CanWest News Service, as the "smoking gun" in the troubled saga of the Canadian Firearms Centre.

The revelations come after CanWest revealed that Auditor-General Sheila Fraser will report on Tuesday that the former Liberal government kept the true costs of the gun registry from Parliament and that the problems identified in her initial 2002 audit of the controversial program continued for at least three years despite fierce criticism and the scrutiny of opposition parties.

"When they gave out that $273-million contract, they broke every rule in the book," Mr. Breitkreuz said, echoing the phrase that Ms. Fraser made famous in her audit of the $250-million sponsorship program.

Former Liberal public works minister Scott Brison disputed the Tory allegations yesterday, saying "to the best of my knowledge we were extremely vigorous" in reporting gun-registry costs to Parliament.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives believe the findings they expect to see in next Tuesday's audit of the firearms program will give them the ammunition they need to scrap the registry.

"I think it's a huge story, and in my mind, this is twice as big a scandal as the sponsorship scandal because here you've got contracts over $500-million going out and the work being done just doesn't measure up to that kind of money that we're spending," Mr. Breitkreuz said. . . .

The lead company in the consortium, Montreal-based CGI Information Systems, was under contract for four years to the federal government while the Liberals and top public servants responsible for the firearm registry struggled to find ways to bring the escalating costs under control.

A 2004 report for the government noted that an "unstable" legislative environment and continuous delays were driving up the cost of the registry.

EDS Canada, the registry's original computer firm, was under contract at the same time as CGI, but its computer system was not considered flexible enough for the changing demands government officials placed upon it.

Team Centra's term running the gun registry computer system began on Dec. 5, 2005, according to the contract, but there are suggestions that a test run on the new computer system was a "huge failure," Mr. Breitkreuz said, adding that the original computer system designed by EDS Canada is still being used to process gun registrations.

"I'm really interested to know if we made any payments on that $273-million contract," he said.

Both Mr. Fortier and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, whose department is responsible for the firearms program, declined interview requests yesterday.

In her 2002 report on the federal gun registry, the Auditor-General found that Parliament had been "kept in the dark" about the costs of the program, and that they had risen to $1-billion from $119-million when it was created in 1995.

"She stopped her audit at $1-billion because she couldn't find out where the rest of the money has gone. Maybe she has found out more and is able to determine the actual costs," Mr. Breitkreuz suggested. . . . ..


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