Say no to sole-sourcing,” urge posters for a rally at city hall today against the Lansdowne Live plan.

As council prepares to vote on Lansdowne Park’s future, opponents of the development deal appear to have seized upon the issue of sole-sourcing as a key argumentative weapon.

While there are numerous debatable details of the project, the amount of retail space or parking, transit hurdles or matters of heritage and aesthetics, the idea of getting value for money with competitive bidding seems hard to oppose.


This week, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group seemed to acknowledge this, indicating they wouldn’t be opposed to an open design competition for development of the green space at Lansdowne, as long as the rest of the project remains in their hands.

Also this week, councillors Clive Doucet, Jacques Legendre and Diane Holmes, who all oppose the Lansdowne deal, held a press conference to demonstrate multi-party opposition to sole-source contracts as a simple matter of good governance.

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent was in attendance, and letters were quoted from other politicos, including Green leader Elizabeth May, Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi and NDP MP Paul Dewar.

“It is a very, very rare occasion when politicians abandon their partisan concerns…and join together in a common cause,” Coun. Doucet said. “They’re doing so today because sole-sourcing is a governance issue that applies to all governments, and no party wants to be associated with it.”

He somewhat overstated the degree of multi-partisan unanimity, however. Conspicuously absent were any representatives of the Conservative Party of Canada. While it’s true that Flora MacDonald, a cabinet minister in the Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney governments, wrote in support, she was a Progressive Conservative, and after her party merged with Reform into its current incarnation, she famously and loudly voted NDP.

So, the party one would most likely associate with free market principles is the only one not standing up for competition for this multi-million-dollar public project. Meanwhile, given repeated hiccups with the supply of H1N1 vaccine, the Harper government appears to be ready to re-think its own exclusive deal with GlaxoSmithKline.

A sole-source contract can be just the thing in rare circumstances, for example, for a small job that doesn’t justify the time and expense of a full competition, in an emergency where time is of the essence, or cases in which there’s only one company capable of supplying a particular good or service.

Usually, though, it makes no great sense for a government not to shop around and get the best deal it can for your money.

Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa;

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