Firm led by former Danielle Smith campaign manager awarded $72K provincial contract
The Alberta government last November awarded a sole-source, three-month contract worth $72,500 to a marketing agency where Premier Danielle Smith's former leadership campaign manager is part-owner and executive producer, government records show.
The contract, which ran from Nov. 1, 2022 to Jan. 31, was awarded to Edmonton-based Nordic Media to provide digital media strategic planning and asset development.
Nordic Media's executive producer is Matthew Altheim, who was campaign manager for Smith while she sought the leadership of the United Conservative Party. He is described as part-owner of Nordic Media on its website.
Sole-source contracts, which involve services purchased by Alberta government departments without going out for bids, are permitted under specific circumstances.
CBC News previously reported the contract, and that Altheim's firm had been hired to shape social media memes for Smith, but the dollar figure and the criteria behind the contract was not known until the most recent disclosure was posted online.
Contracts require specific criteria
These sole-source contracts include those which could only be satisfied by suppliers with specific qualifications or those in which the procurement process might reveal confidential information.
The government must divulge each specific situation in its disclosure tables.
In the case of Nordic Media, the situation cited was "where an unforeseeable situation of urgency exists and the services, or the goods or services in respect of Construction, could not be obtained by means of open procurement procedures."
CBC News requested more details on why Nordic Media was chosen given this criteria, and what the urgent or unforeseen situation was that arose.
"Nordic Media was contracted by us, in response to a need for specialized digital media services, including development of creative digital assets, strategy and data analytics, on an expedited basis," wrote David Sands, director of communications in the government's communications and public engagement department, in a statement.
"A contract was executed with a reputable vendor to deliver these specialized services on an interim basis in accordance with Government of Alberta procurement rules for expedited, low-dollar contracts."
Sands said an open request for proposals for a permanent vendor is currently being reviewed, and will be posted in March.
One video posted by Nordic Media this month was an advertisement focused on Alberta government affordability payments. Sands did not immediately respond to a follow-up question inquiring whether or not it was part of the contract.
According to the company's LinkedIn, Nordic Media has somewhere in the range from two to 10 employees. It was founded in 2009.
CBC News requested additional comment from Altheim, but requests weren't immediately returned Thursday.
The government's sole-source contract database is updated quarterly. Information on contracts for services of $10,000 or more are listed.
Also recently listed in the database is a four-month, $74,000 contract awarded to National Public Relations, a public relations firm, for strategic communications planning.
National Public Relations' Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs for Western Canada is Blaise Boehmer, the former director of communications for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
That contract was listed with the reasoning being that an open bidding process "could reasonably be expected to compromise government confidentiality, cause economic disruption or be contrary to the public interest."
Smith has, at multiple times in the past, been critical of government utilizing sole-source contracts. In a 2014 Calgary Herald article, she was quoted criticizing the Progressive Conservative government for handing out contracts during the 2013 floods.
"We know what happens when you sole-source. Taxpayers get ripped off. There's just no way for you to have the competitive tension that keeps prices down if you only have one provider," she was quoted as saying during her time as Wildrose Leader.