In February of this year, Meaford’s council gave direction to staff to retain a community benefits negotiator, as well as a project coordinator to help guide council and the municipality through the various processes that are on the horizon related to the proposed pumped storage facility to be located at the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre, including the review of reports through the Environmental Impact Assessment process. This week staff brought a recommendation to council, though several residents were not pleased with the process, nor the firm selected.
In their report to council, staff recommended that council waive the established purchasing processes to allow for the awarding of contracts through an informal quotation process, a procedure that has been utilized by council in the past. Staff recommended retaining StrategyCorp Inc. to fulfill both the role of negotiator and project coordinator.
A number of residents were not pleased with the recommendations, and six of those residents made deputations to council during the public participation portion of the meeting agenda, prior to council’s discussion of the issue.
Concerns expressed by those who made deputations focused on transparency and potential conflicts of interest.
Much of the concern focused on a former chairman of StrategyCorp, who now sits on the board of directors for TC Energy, suggesting the potential for a conflict of interest.
David McNaughton was chairman of StrategyCorp Inc. for a decade, leaving the position in 2016 in order to accept an appointment as Canadian Ambassador to the United States, and is not longer involved with the company. Three years later, in 2019, MacNaughton resigned his ambassadorship in order to become president of software company Palantir Technologies Canada, a position he currently holds. McNaughton was appointed to the TCE Board of Directors in spring 2020.
CAO Rob Armstrong addressed some of the concerns raised prior to council’s discussion of the agenda item.
“This has been a bit of a difficult journey for staff,” Armstrong told council. “To seek out a qualified community benefits negotiator to act on behalf of both the municipality and the community as we move forward, and the conflict has been big with other firms that we have reached out to. TC Energy is a massive, big company, and a lot of people have either worked, or done work for them in the past, and it has presented a challenge.”
Armstrong also commented on concerns raised about the purchasing process, as well as suggestions that TC Energy was guiding staff’s choices of candidates for the project.
“With regard to our purchasing process, the only difference in this process was that we invited people to submit proposals, and part of that process is that they had to first confirm whether they had a conflict or not,” Armstrong told council. “I am the one that sought out StrategyCorp, it wasn’t recommended by anybody to me. I am aware of StrategyCorp and a lot of the work they do for municipalities in providing strategic advice.”
Armstrong noted that StrategyCorp has undertaken projects for other local municipalities, including neighbouring Town of the Blue Mountains. He said that after hearing concerns raised by residents about a potential conflict of interest, he discussed those concerns with StrategyCorp, who noted that the individual in question is no longer involved with their firm, and they were satisfied that a conflict does not exist.
“I reached out to our solicitor, and that’s who usually gives you (council) legal advice on conflict,” Armstrong advised council. “And he advised that he did not see any conflict, and in fact, he has worked with other municipalities with StrategyCorp and he feels we would be well served in working with StrategyCorp on this particular file, and getting the best advice.”
During council’s discussions about the agenda item, Councillor Tony Bell suggested hiring two different firms, one for negotiating services, and another to act as project coordinator, a suggestion that ultimately found the support of council.
Council opted to hire StrategyCorp to act as community benefits negotiator with TC Energy, and to hire local consulting firm Collingwood-based Ainley Group to act as project coordinator.
The costs to retain the services of the Community Benefits Negotiator and the Project Manager are to be reimbursed to the municipality by TC Energy.