Law firm with Lib­eral ties won con­tract from Jus­tice af­ter mod­ern­iza­tion pitch

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - DANIEL LEBLANC

A Lib­eral-con­nected law firm that sub­mit­ted a pro­posal to re­vamp how the fed­eral De­part­ment of Jus­tice eval­u­ates le­gal risk was ini­tially told it would be awarded a con­tract with­out hav­ing to com­pete.

Af­ter in­for­mal dis­cus­sions, law firm McCarthy Té­trault LLP had sent a pro­posal in the sum­mer of 2017 to ad­vise the de­part­ment on ways to mod­ern­ize its de­liv­ery of le­gal ser­vices, records show. The top bu­reau­crat at Jus­tice, Nathalie Drouin, at first agreed to hire the firm and asked her of­fi­cials to award a con­tract for ad­vi­sory ser­vices with­out go­ing to ten­ders.

The de­part­ment back­tracked in the fol­low­ing weeks, how­ever, de­cid­ing to in­vite ri­val law firms to sub­mit bids through a con­fi­den­tial process.

No com­pany sub­mit­ted a pro­posal ex­cept McCarthy Té­trault, which went on to sign the con­tract worth up to $75,000 to re­vamp the cri­te­ria by which the de­part­ment eval­u­ates the le­gal risks fac­ing var­i­ous fed­eral agen­cies.

The process that led to the award­ing of the con­tract is de­tailed in doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Globe and Mail and Mon­treal-based La Presse that lift the veil over the way the fed­eral gov­ern­ment hires out­side le­gal ser­vices.

The lawyers who worked on the project in­cluded Awan­ish Sinha and Adam Gold­en­berg, according to the doc­u­ments. Mr. Sinha was a Lib­eral Party lawyer in the 2015 gen­eral elec­tion, and Mr. Gold­en­berg was chief speech­writer for the Lib­eral Party when Michael Ig­nati­eff was leader. The ap­proved rate was $711 per hour for Mr. Sinha, and $527 for Mr. Gold­en­berg.

A com­pany spokesman de­clined a re­quest for com­ment on McCarthy Té­trault’s work with Jus­tice and the hourly rates charged on the project.

“It is McCarthy Té­trault’s pol­icy never to com­ment on man­dates or clients we may or may not have,” Trevor Ham­p­den said.

A Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman re­fused to of­fer in­for­ma­tion on the lawyers who worked on the project or their hourly rates, stat­ing “this in­for­ma­tion is pro­tected by so­lic­i­tor-client priv­i­lege and lit­i­ga­tion priv­i­lege.”

The dis­cus­sions be­tween McCarthy Té­trault and the De­part­ment of Jus­tice started in the sum­mer of 2017.

On Aug. 14 of that year, the firm’s chief client and in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer, Ju­dith McKay, sent a pro­posal to Ms. Drouin of­fer­ing a “prac­ti­cal, real-world ap­proach” to ser­vice de­liv­ery at the de­part­ment. According to one of the doc­u­ments, the firm sought to ad­vise the fed­eral gov­ern­ment on the cre­ation of a “client-cen­tric and busi­ness-like cul­ture” and on im­prov­ing the de­part­ment’s “risk-as­sess­ment cri­te­ria” in re­la­tion to the le­gal work con­ducted for other de­part­ments and agen­cies.

In Oc­to­ber, 2017, Ms. Drouin’s of­fice in­formed Ms. McKay by email that the gov­ern­ment had “agreed to work” with the firm on the project as part of a con­tract that, at that time, would have been worth up to $100,000.

Af­ter ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of giv­ing the con­tract di­rectly to McCarthy Té­trault, how­ever, the de­part­ment de­cided to launch a competition for the con­tract in De­cem­ber, 2017, invit­ing an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of law firms to bid, said the Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman, Ian McLeod.

The gov­ern­ment re­ceived “only one sub­mis­sion, from McCarthy Té­trault LLP,” Mr. McLeod said.

The deal reached on Dec. 18, 2017, had a “max­i­mum ini­tial value of $75,000,” said Mr. McLeod, who added the con­tract dealt solely with the work on the de­part­ment’s risk-as­sess­ment strat­egy. He re­fused to state how much money was spent on the con­tract.

“Spe­cific amounts bro­ken down by file are pro­tected by so­lic­i­tor-client priv­i­lege,” Mr. McLeod said.

According to McCarthy Té­trault’s pro­posal, ob­tained by The Globe and La Presse, the “team lead” on the risk as­sess­ment project as of Au­gust, 2017, was Mr. Sinha, who acted as the Lib­eral lawyer in Toronto in the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion.

In his of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy, Mr. Sinha has de­scribed work­ing with the De­part­ment of Jus­tice “on the mod­ern­iza­tion of its le­gal risk man­age­ment strate­gies,” as well as his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Canada 2020, a think tank with ties to the Lib­eral Party.

Mr. Sinha and Mr. Gold­en­berg have do­nated to the Lib­eral Party in re­cent years, according to Elec­tions Canada records. Nei­ther re­sponded to a re­quest for com­ment sent to their e-mail ad­dresses at McCarthy Té­trault.

Mr. McLeod said the project was de­signed to help the De­part­ment of Jus­tice in its deal­ings with other fed­eral de­part­ments and agen­cies on le­gal is­sues.

“This work is be­ing led by Jus­tice depart­men­tal of­fi­cials, who wanted to seek third-party ex­pert in­put on this topic,” he said. “The le­gal agent pro­vided their views for im­prov­ing over­all ef­fec­tive­ness and ef­fi­ciency of the process, par­tic­u­larly as they re­late to the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of le­gal risks to gov­ern­ment clients from Jus­tice le­gal coun­sel.”

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