Conservatives question politics behind veterans job placement contract

A Canadian flag and a UN patch are shown on the sleeve of a Canadian soldier’s uniform before deployment to the peacekeeping mission in Mali on July 5, 2018. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Two of the three companies that competed for a federal contract to deliver job placement services for Canada’s veterans were disqualified for “not having sufficient experience” — even though one of them was doing the work already for Veterans Affairs, CBC News has learned.

The $10.4 million contract ended up going to an Oshawa, Ont.-based company, Agilec, which in its previous iteration had done a lot of work for the Ontario government under then-premier Dalton McGuinty.

CBC News has obtained a series of documents through access to information legislation and conducted a number of background interviews with current and former government officials to answer questions about how the tender went to a relatively unknown company with no national profile and no offices outside of Ontario.

For over a year, officials at Agilec have refused repeated interview requests and directed all inquiries from CBC News to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Conservative MP and ex-veterans minister Erin O’Toole said he’s had his own trouble getting information from and arranging a meeting with officials from the company, which is based in a riding adjacent to his own.

He said there has been something “puzzling” about the contract since the beginning and asks whether there was political interference in the contract process.

“I’d like that question to be answered,” O’Toole said in an interview with CBC News. “I would like to see an examination of why the responses by the [competing] companies were rejected. I think the government needs to needs to provide some clarity on what happened here.”

Running into roadblocks

When the contract was awarded, O’Toole said he’d never heard of Agilec, even though he’s well-connected with the Durham Region business community. When he couldn’t get information about the company, he said, he showed up unannounced on their doorstep several weeks ago.

“On a few occasions, I tried to to speak to them about their service offering and their background,” O’Toole told CBC News. “I’ve run into roadblocks many times.”

Part of the reason O’Toole and others in the veterans community had never heard of Agilec is that, up until four years ago, the employment firm was operating regionally as Northern Lights Vocational Services or Northern Lights Canada.

It was rebranded weeks after the 2015 federal election and held a series of contracts with the Ontario government.

Provincial public accounts records show the company received at least…

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