Ontario Construction News staff writer
The federal government has ordered an “urgent” investigation into the business activities of the Liberal-appointed chair of Defence Construction Canada (DCC) after learning that she worked as a consultant for Ontario-based Fowler Construction shortly after she resigned as its top executive to resolve a conflict of interest, The Globe and Mail reports in Friday’s editions.
The newspaper says it discovered on Thursday that Moreen Miller’s work for Fowler Construction didn’t end after she resigned as the company’s president in September, 2018, and maintained her part-time position as DCC’S chair, She later helped the company on a quarry project in a township near Orillia.
“The government has also asked Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to investigate Ms. Miller, who was appointed in 2017 as chair of DCC, which handles military infrastructure contracts,” the published report says. “The Globe reported on Thursday morning that DCC had suspended Fowler from bidding on contracts while Ms. Miller was chair, but lifted the suspension after she resigned.”
Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough, who is responsible for overseeing DCC, had defended the appointment of Miller over the objections of DCC’s then-chief executive officer and independent directors, The Globe and Mail said. On Thursday, Qualtrough’s spokesperson said DCC had launched an internal probe into the matter.
“Neither the minister nor her office was aware of these allegations prior to today,” Ms. Qualtrough’s press secretary, Marielle Hossack said in an e-mail to The Globe. “The minister has directed her officials to investigate this matter on an urgent basis.”
As well, DCC’s spokesperson Erica Lyle told The Globe the corporation had “engaged the office of the conflict-of-interest and ethics commissioner in this matter.”
Miller’s appointment as chair of DCC in November, 2017, sparked an internal battle over potential conflict of interest when she said Fowler Construction should be allowed to continue bidding on DCC contracts.
DCC’s five independent directors resigned in protest last year, citing what they considered insufficient action from Qualtrough to address the issue, The Globe reported. DCC’s then-chief executive officer, James Paul, suspended Fowler from bidding for DCC work in April, 2018, and Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion instructed DCC to set up a conflict of interest screen to ensure Miller did not make any decisions that could benefit Fowler.
The conflict of interest screen and the suspension ended late last year after Miller resigned as president of Fowler and assured DCC and Mr. Dion’s office she no longer had any private interest in the company, The Globe reported.
DCC’s spokesperson said Thursday that the Crown corporation had not awarded any contracts to Fowler since Miller stepped down as president and the bidding suspension was rescinded.
Miller told DCC on Nov. 1, 2018, in an e-mail that she had no remaining interest in Fowler. She offered the same assurance to the ethics commissioner’s office on Sept. 27. And in an e-mail on Oct. 1, 2018, Miller told Mr. Dion’s office: “I can confirm that that my only private interest in Fowler was as an employee and that interest ended on Sept. 14. None of my relatives or close friends have a private interest in Fowler,” The Globe and Mail reported.
However local officials in the township of Ramara, near Orillia, told The Globe that as early as December, 2018, Miller was helping Fowler with a proposed quarry expansion in their area.
On Dec. 19, 2018, Ms. Miller met with Township of Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke and councilor David Snutch on behalf of Fowler. Another Fowler representative was also present.
“She said she was retired, like past president, but she was helping them with this file as, say, an unofficial consultant, because she had the history on the quarry in our township,” Clarke told the Globe.
He said the meeting was to discuss Fowler’s request for rezoning of a local quarry so the company could extract more rock. Snutch said Fowler told him that while she had resigned from Fowler “she been brought on as consultant to push through this rezoning application in Ramara township.”