. Counsellors not giving up
NWT Family Services files complaint in Ottawa

Tara Kearsey
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 19/00) - The loss of a government contract has prompted NWT Family Counselling Services to file a complaint with the Federal Competition Bureau in Ottawa.

The non-profit organization found out in February that it had not won the contract to provide counselling services for the territorial government.

NWT Family Services, which became a nationally accredited counselling organization in September, had provided the service to the government during the previous four years.

NWT Family Services submitted the lowest of three bids to provide the service -- $191,000 per year over a three-year period.

Two private companies also submitted bids, Northstar and Life Works.

After the program proposals were submitted, the GNWT verbally requested that each company re-submit the cost of their programs. The reasoning for this was based on the grounds that each had supplied service fees for a different number of counselling sessions.

"We wanted to compare everybody's figures on the same level," said Karen White, chairperson of the GNWT Employee Family Assistant Program committee.

As requested, all three companies then adjusted their service fees for the same amount of counselling sessions.

White said the companies were also told to keep in mind the price indicated in the first set of proposals were "considered very high."

When Northstar, a newly-formed company, was awarded the contract as a cost of $315,000 per year over a three-year period, NWT Family Services was outraged.

"We did not expect that anything would be awarded any higher, certainly no higher than what we bid," said Bill Reid, chairman of the NWT Family Services board of directors. He was referring to the organization's second bid of $150,000.

White explained to Yellowknifer that when the request for proposal was issued by the GNWT, it specified the proposed programs would be evaluated by a points system on four different areas.

Those areas and their point values are: past experience and organizational competency (20 points); proposed program (35 points); organizational capabilities (25 points); and fees and expenses (20 points), for a grand total of 100.

The proposals were evaluated by members of the EFAP committee, which consisted of government employees and representatives from both Yellowknife school districts, and the company that scored the highest was declared the winner.

White said if money had been the only issue NWT Family Services would have won the contract, but that was not the case.

She said Northstar came out above the other companies because its three partners had more combined experience (27 years, according to White) and had proposed more extensive counselling services for communities outside Yellowknife.

NWT Family Services is not only concerned about the money issue, however.

Reid is also concerned about Northstar's lack of experience as an organization.

Information obtained from Legal Registries in Yellowknife confirmed Northstar was not registered as a company when the contract was awarded.

On Feb. 18 it was announced that Northstar had won the contract. Its three partners then applied for legal registration on March 24 and were declared a legal partnership on March 28.

White said the GNWT was fully aware Northstar was not legally registered at the time the contract was awarded. But, she said all three partners were long-time residents who had their own individual counselling services in town.

But that reasoning is not good enough for NWT Family Services. Reid believes Northstar should not have earned any points in the organizational capabilities category because it had absolutely no experience as an individual organization.

"There is no doubt (the Northstar partners) have their own experience and qualifications, but the fact is, as a company, they have no track record whatsoever while we have national accreditation," said Reid.

That's the reason NWT Family Services is requesting the Federal Competition Bureau investigate the case.

"What happened here could affect every other non-government organization such as ours. If the government wants to go private with things there are legal and proper ways to do it.

"Every other NGO stands to be treated the same way at the whim of the government unless this thing is stopped," said Reid.

"I intend to do my utmost to stop it because no other organization such as ours should be subjected to that kind of treatment -- it's an illegal way to take public funds," Reid said.