Second B.C. grant program facing scrutiny amid conflict concerns

Click to play video: 'Concerns raised about more MNP contracts'
Concerns raised about more MNP contracts
WATCH: One week after the B.C. auditor general launched an investigation into accounting firm MNP's role in distributing provincial grant money for the CleanBC program, questions are being raised about the company's involvement in the BuyBC program. Richard Zussman reports. – Apr 15, 2024

One of the B.C. government’s most recognizable programs is facing scrutiny, amid concerns about possible conflicts of interest in provincial grant administration.

Opposition parties are calling for a probe of the Buy BC program, an initiative meant to help promote local agricultural products.

The grant program is being administered by Canadian accounting firm MNP, while at the same time providing consulting services for the program’s three top recipients.

Click to play video: 'B.C. auditor general investigates green grant program and kickback allegations'
B.C. auditor general investigates green grant program and kickback allegations

Documents obtained through freedom of information show the Wine Growers of B.C. received $75,000, the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board received nearly $66,000 and B.C. Food and Beverage received just over $45,000 in grants.

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“This government has set some pretty loose policies around grant programs. It is our money and British Columbians want to know it is going to the right people,” BC Green Party House Leader Adam Olsen said.

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“What type of safeguards does the government put in place with these contracts and what type of oversight are they providing?” added BC United Finance Critic Peter Milobar.

“We need some clarity and certainty around just the process of what’s actually happening.”

Facing pressure from opposition parties, the BC NDP government directed the province’s auditor general to review another grant program with MNP involvement.

The company is facing allegations it provided grant-writing services for a CleanBC program while administering the program at the same time.

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A week full of challenges for BC NDP ahead of legislature break

MNP maintains it did nothing wrong, and has firewalls in place to keep the two sides of the company separate.

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“MNP’s policies and procedures prohibit employees from providing grant writing services for any program we administer. Our program administration work on behalf of BuyBC is no different,” the company said in a statement.

But experts say the controversy points to pitfalls governments face when contracting out this type of work.

“I would encourage governments to bring as much of that as they can in-house because it eliminates some of that conflict certainly with big firms that are trying to be everything to everybody,” UBC political scientist Gerald Baier said.

“They can staff them on a more temporary basis, they can do limited contracts with individuals, they can build a small team,” he added. “And probably cheaper.”

The province has said it is supportive if the auditor general’s investigation includes more than just the CleanBC program.

That probe could proceed in two phases, first looking at the concerns about the clean tech grants, followed by a wider review of how government administers and provides grants.

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