Fewer than 15 per cent of the contracts awarded by FedNor for goods and services worth more than $1,000 went to businesses in Northern Ontario.
This, despite the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario’s mandate, Kenora Conservative MP Eric Melillo said, which is to “work with businesses and community partners to build a stronger Northern Ontario.” These contracts exclude the grants and contributions the federal organization awards to support Northern Ontario businesses and organizations.
Melillo dug out this revelation in a recent inquiry to the federal government, in which all contracts over $1,000 awarded by FedNor since Aug. 12, 2021, be compiled alongside a description, location and contract amount.
The resulting document lists 29 contracts, the majority of which were awarded to companies in southern Ontario. This includes such things as the purchase of a Kia Sorento (vehicle) for $61,712, which went to a dealership in Mississauga.
FedNor purchased six double-tier lockers from a company in Mississauga for $6,266, three speakers and microphones from a company in Pickering for $6,717, 30 webcams from a Staples in Mississauga for $5,000, and received $20,272 in “digital asset design” work from a company in Sarnia.
Some expenditures, such as an almost $30,000 compliance review by KPMG, were awarded to Northern Ontario vendors (in this case, Sudbury-based), but Melillo noted that more contracts could have been awarded to businesses in the region FedNor serves.
FedNor's “goal is to help spur economic growth in Northern Ontario,” Melillo told Sudbury.com by phone this week. “I think the very least that we would expect, certainly that I would expect, is the agency would do a better job supporting companies in the North.”
The fact fewer than 15 per cent of contracts went to Northern Ontario businesses, he said, is “ridiculous” and “completely unacceptable.”
In a recent media release, he said, “The region has exceptional talent across all sectors. It is difficult to believe there were not businesses in Northern Ontario that could have instead provided these goods and services.”
On Monday morning, Sudbury.com requested a phone interview with someone at FedNor, but this request was not granted.
FedNor spokesperson Shelley Rolland-Poruks instead issued a written statement that evening.
Within the statement, she noted their contracts make up a small portion of their overall budget, with the vast majority going toward grants and contributions in support of Northern Ontario organizations.
“Overall, 99.8 per cent of FedNor’s expenses were made in support of Northern Ontario organizations, and 100 per cent of all grants and contributions went into helping Northern Ontario grow and create good-paying jobs in the region.”
She also described their procurement process as “fair and transparent” and “focused on obtaining the best possible value for Canadian taxpayers.”
“The decision to hire service providers is based on multiple factors, including the nature and duration of the activity and the availability of specialized technology and services,” she wrote.
Rolland-Poruks’ written response did not answer any of the questions Sudbury.com posed, which were:
- How are contracts awarded?
- Is there a special focus afforded to Northern Ontario contracts?
- Why weren't more Northern Ontario contracts awarded?
- Is the current process being looked at to better prioritize Northern Ontario contracts?