The provincial government says it will investigate Metrolinx’s decision to award millions of dollars worth of contracts to a consulting firm while one of the firm’s directors also served as an executive officer at the transit agency.

The announcement by Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney’s office came a day after a Star investigation revealed details of two contracts that Boxfish Infrastructure Group, an Ottawa-based consulting firm, has with Metrolinx in 2019 and 2020 won it. At the time, Brian Guest, a director at Boxfish, was assigned to vice presidential roles at the publicly funded transit agency.

“We fully expect Metrolinx to execute purchases in an open, transparent and competitive manner. “We are extremely concerned about any perceived or potential conflict of interest and will investigate the relevant contracts,” Dakota Brasier, Mulroney’s press secretary, said in a statement on Tuesday. She did not provide any details about possible timelines or outcomes of the review.

Metrolinx, which is the provincial agency responsible for building major transit projects in the GTHA, said there was nothing improper about its relationship with Boxfish of Guest, and its position within the agency has never been a conflict of interest. not contained.

The agency declined to disclose details of how much the contracts were worth, saying it should protect its ability to receive competitive bids. But records posted on Metrolinx’s acquisition website show that one of the contracts was worth $ 11.75 million, which the agency confirmed on Tuesday was the maximum amount payable to the company in the contract’s initial year. Contract values ​​are adjusted annually, the agency said.

Boxfish will earn between $ 20 and $ 30 million from Metrolinx according to sources over a period of two years.

During the Star investigation, Metrolinx said he erected firewalls to insulate Guest from purchases, and he never received a salary from the agency while serving in the executive roles. Instead, Metrolinx paid Boxfish for work that Guest and other employees of the firm did for the organization.

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“We fully welcome and support any inquiry or review into the award of these contracts,” Metrolinx said in a brief statement Tuesday.

Guest, who is still at Boxfish while holding the title of chief, strategic initiatives group at Metrolinx, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Ontario NDP said the public deserves answers over what it described as the “bizarre and disturbing arrangement” between Metrolinx and Guest, whose firm also worked on the difficult Ottawa LRT project that is now the subject of a public inquiry. .

“Ontarians deserve to know why a so-called public agency has been inundated with embedded private consultants, also at executive level. “Ontarians deserve to know the details of these secret consultation contracts, and whether these private consultants serve the public or themselves,” Joel Harden, MPL of Ottawa Center NDP, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Tom Rakocevic, NDP transport critic and Humber River-Black Creek MPP, said the province’s investigation into the contracts – which were first reported by the Toronto Sun – must be independent, otherwise “this government will investigate itself. The fox can not chicken house does not investigate. ”

Under provincial legislation, the Minister of Transport oversees Metrolinx.

While working as a consultant for Metrolinx in March 2018, Guest was appointed as the agency’s vice president of capital projects commercial management, and held the title of executive vice president of commercial management from October 2019 to May 2020.

In 2019, Metrolinx gave Boxfish a contract with any source for strategic advice on the provincial subway plan. In April 2020, the firm was one of four successful bidders on a competitive contract for advice on “commercial and business operations.” The latter contract was the one worth $ 11.75 million over one year. When Boxfish won it, Metrolinx terminated the firm’s 2019 sole acquisition agreement.

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Metrolinx says it needs to hire consultants to leverage expertise in the private sector while delivering the massive portfolio of projects for which it is responsible, and says it is not uncommon to assign consultants to roles within the organization so they work effectively with agency staff. . The agency said it was unusual for a consultant to be assigned a role as senior vice president, but in Guest’s case, it was necessary to expedite work on the province’s $ 28.5 billion subway program.

Sources who spoke to the Star said that since Guest started working for Metrolinx almost a decade ago, he has exerted a level of influence within the agency that was unusual for a private consultant – a level that some within the agency and the broader public sector. about because they feared it could lead to a conflict of interest and a lack of accountability.

The sources said the appointment of a private consultant to take on the roles of vice presidents in a Crown agency has caused some employees at Metrolinx and the provincial public sector to sound the alarm. They said they find it hard to believe that Guest and other Boxfish employees embedded in the organization can be effectively isolated from contract awards.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter who covers transportation for the Star. Reach him by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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