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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: B.C. taxpayers face giant hotel bill for quarantining travellers, foreign workers

COVID Exclusive: B.C. taxpayers face giant hotel bill for quarantining travellers, foreign workers

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Bob Mackin

The bill to quarantine travellers and temporary foreign workers at a Richmond hotel could be as high as $12 million, theBreaker.news has learned.

On April 10, no-bid contracts worth $8.5 million and $3.5 million were awarded under emergency procurement rules to Richmond Inn Investments Inc., the company that owns the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel.

Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel.

April 10 was also the day the B.C. government seconded some of its workers to Vancouver International Airport and land border crossings when it deemed federal government efforts to enforce quarantine laws insufficient. The secondment program ended June 20, but Service B.C. will continue compliance and wellness checks.

Emergency Management B.C. told theBreaker.news on June 30 that the B.C. government “funded the cost for any international travellers arriving in B.C. who were provided self-isolation accommodations by the province. This includes temporary foreign workers. Total costs for the program are not yet available.”

EMBC said it “drafted contracts to ensure returning travellers and temporary foreign workers had the supports they needed to keep themselves and others safe,” but it did not explain why it chose Richmond Inn Investments Inc., whose directors are Larco Investments’ partner Amin Lalji and Larco vice-president of taxation Tracy MacKinnon.

In 2016, Business in Vancouver reported that hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE discovered Larco-associated companies were in the Panama Papers database of offshore companies for registering assets in tax havens. The closely held West Vancouver-based company’s multi-billion-dollar real estate portfolio ranges from luxury hotels and casinos to buildings that house Canada Revenue Agency offices. 

As of June 5, NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon Tweeted that 31,276 travellers had been checked by B.C. government staff through land border crossings, 24,778 at airports and 137 quarantined.

The Canadian Red Cross was hired on a $493,000 no-bid contract for self-isolation support and Yellow Cabs received a $50,000 sole source gig to taxi quarantine subjects from the airport to the hotel. OXD Consulting, formerly OpenRoad Communications, was contracted for $90,000 to develop plans for temporary foreign workers entering B.C. and to establish silviculture camps.

The total for the above no-bid contracts: $13.35 million.

Meanwhile, EMBC hired KPMG for $500,000 on a no-bid contract to “plan, allocate and distribute” critical supplies to healthcare institutions. That was for the COVID-19 Supply Hub program website for health authorities to buy medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

Amin Lalji (right) in 2013 with Premier Christy Clark (BC Gov)

In related projects, the government contracted 18 Wheels Logistics Inc. for $150,000 for warehousing, distribution and logistics for the COVID-19 response and $74,000 to 7 Consulting Inc. of Victoria to “develop process to engage the vendor community in aiding with technology-related challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The latter contract may be the biggest eyebrow-raiser of them all.

Lucky 7 

A corporate records search by theBreaker.news found that 7 Consulting’s only director is Nicola “Nikki” Sieben, a former 20-year veteran of the B.C. Public Service and wife of Deputy Solicitor General Mark Sieben.

Nikki Sieben (whose last name is the German word for seven) established her consultancy at home near Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park in 2018 after almost three years as IBM Canada’s associate partner for B.C. public sector contracts and a year as the chief transformation officer in the Provincial Health Services Authority.

Mark Sieben has been Deputy Solicitor General since June 2016.

The Ministry of Citizens’ Services’ digital platforms and data division “sought to increase internal capacity,” said a ministry statement to theBreaker.news. “7 Consulting Inc.’s prior experience working with DPD set it out as singularly qualified and available to do this work on the timelines called for in the circumstances.

“Further, as an independent contractor, and one not seeking to sell COVID-related solutions into government, 7 Consulting Inc. could provide the independence and objectivity of analysis required to fulfil the work contemplated in the present contract.”

Normally, any service contract between $25,000 and $75,000 must be awarded under a competitive process by posting to the B.C. Bid procurement website or by obtaining at least three quotes.

But B.C. government procurement rules also allow for emergency contract awards. B.C. has been under an official state of emergency since March 18, as declared by Mark Sieben’s superior, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. Mark Sieben is part of a committee of deputy ministers that is coordinating the government response to the pandemic.

Mark and Nikki Sieben

“Ministries may directly acquire goods and services when an unforeseen emergency exists,” reads the core policy. “Emergency Purchase Orders must only be used to meet extraordinary deadlines that have pre-empted the ability to access the normal acquisition processes for goods and services.”

Government policy also states that “employees who find themselves in an actual, perceived or potential conflict of interest must disclose the matter to their supervisor or manager.”

It is not clear whether Mark Sieben did any of that. Neither Mark Sieben nor Farnworth responded to theBreaker.news for comment.

Meanwhile, Hooper Access and Privacy Consulting was contracted to process an FOI request “involving employees at Information Access Operations,” the office in the Citizens’ Services ministry that processes FOI requests across government.

But the ministry would not comment on specifics of Bev Hooper’s contract, citing privacy and confidentiality.

“This was an exceptional situation requiring an impartial individual to process the request. This step was taken to protect privacy/confidentiality and ensure a level of comfort for current employees.”   

Figures compiled by the late Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC show that between 2013 and 2018, Hooper billed the B.C. government and Crown corporations PartnershipsBC, Transportation Investment Corp., BC Rail and B.C. Pavilion Corporation a combined total of more than $1.5 million.

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