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Nobody knows why Dalhousie was picked to run $100M COVID relief program

MLAs raise concerns about province's selection process

2 min read
caption Dalhousie University was given $100 million in March 2020 to administer the province’s program of helping small businesses and individuals hit by the pandemic.
Shlok Talati

Nova Scotia’s associate deputy minister of finance could not explain on Wednesday why Dalhousie University was chosen to run a $100 million program to help businesses cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Geoff Gatien was tight-lipped as the legislature’s public accounts standing committee directed questions about the province’s decision to ask Dalhousie to do the job.

“There are probably a few large organizations in Nova Scotia, but Dalhousie has a good relationship with the province. Why exactly Dalhousie? I don’t know the answer why Dalhousie was the first phone call,” Gatien said.

The committee was reviewing auditor general Kim Adair’s Nov. 23 report on value for money of early COVID-19 relief programs. While committee members commended the university’s efforts to help in the crisis, MLAs were concerned about the selection process.

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In response to PC MLA Nolan Young’s question about tenders, Gatien said he was not a part of those discussions.

“I am not aware of other entities in particular that were considered. I would expect other universities, post-secondary institutions would have had some level of consideration. This would have been without tender,” he said.

Gatien added that the province was pleased that Dalhousie agreed to take on the task.

The agreement gave Dalhousie the option to seek advice from the province but did not require them to do so. Gatien said that if there was a disagreement about how to spend the money, the university would have final say.

The lack of provincial control over decision-making was a cause of concern for NDP’s Susan Leblanc.

“It just underlines the concern that that’s public funding that another organization is in charge of as opposed to the publicly elected and paid for civil servants making those final decisions,” Leblanc said.

However, Matt Hebb, Dalhousie’s vice-president of government and global relations, said the arrangement worked because there was a trusting relationship between the province and the university.

“We wouldn’t want to be in a position where we’re sort of doing something that’s contrary to what the government would want to see,” Hebb said.

Coin flip?

MLAs were also skeptical about the amount of funding given to the university to run the program.

“I don’t know if somebody flipped a coin or what, but where did it come to $100 million exactly?” said PC MLA John MacDonald.

Gatien said he did not know how the amount was determined but said that it was agreed upon by the province to show substantial support in times of need.

Adair’s report also noted that the province had given the money to Dalhousie without knowing how much would actually be needed. Of the original amount, $10 million is still uncommitted.

The committee was supposed to discuss rural internet but ran out of time and bumped that discussion to its next meeting.

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About the author

Shlok Talati

Based in Toronto, Shlok Talati is a 2023 CBC News Donaldson Scholar with experience in radio and digital. He holds a master of journalism from...

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