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Cost of B.C. government’s no-bid pandemic contracts rises by 83%

Penny Ballem’s vaccine czar contract increased by 245% to $760,000
Pandemic emergency contracts awarded by the B.C. government originally worth a combined $13.25 million are now worth a combined maximum of $24.25 million

Pay increases for suppliers the BC NDP government hired on emergency, no-bid contracts have bumped up the original cost of the agreements by 83%.
A list showing some of the Ministry of Health’s pandemic contracts valued at $10,000 and up includes 17 deals related to the ImmunizeBC program and one for sourcing personal protective equipment were originally worth a combined $13.25 million. Amendments to the contracts mean they are now worth a combined maximum $24.25 million. Most were signed in the first quarter of 2021.

One of those involves the public face of the ImmunizeBC program, B.C. vaccine czar Penny Ballem.

BC NDP Health Minister Adrian Dix originally gave Ballem the $250-an-hour assignment in January 2021 for 10 months at a maximum $220,000 through her numbered company that does business as Pendru Consulting. The government has quietly boosted the maximum value of her contract by 245%.

By the end of last October, Ballem had already been paid $405,000 for organizing the vaccine distribution network and clinics, nearly double the original amount. The list shows that at the start of November, her contract was extended to the end of May 2022 and increased to a maximum $760,000.

In December, Dix reappointed Ballem as chair of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority for three more years. For the year ended last March 31, 2021, that post paid Ballem $55,309 in stipend, meeting fees and expense reimbursement. 

Members of Ballem’s team also got hefty increases.

Mary Conibear and IPS Consulting were hired originally for $56,000 each, but their contracts were extended to respective maximums of $487,000 and $431,600. 4276159 Canada Inc. (a.k.a. Bristol Management) was also contracted for $56,000, but is now capped at $160,963.

Lizette Parsons Bell and Associates Inc. and John Hedley McLaughlin were originally contracted for $140,000 each. Bell’s maximum is now $438,273 and McLaughlin’s $257,225.

Conibear, Bell and McLaughlin were executives of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics organizer VANOC, where Ballem was a Vancouver city council-appointed member of the board of directors.

Four companies were hired for vaccine distribution: McKesson Canada ($980,000), Imperial Distributors and Kohl and Frisch Ltd. ($260,000 each) and uniPharm Wholesale Drugs Ltd. ($120,000). The BC Pharmacy Association has a $600,000 contract for its role in the booster dose program.

The original $150,000 contract for St. John Society (B.C. and Yukon) to provide emergency first aid at Lower Mainland vaccination clinics climbed to $460,000 and the $200,000 contract for B&M Tax and Accounting Services Ltd. became $550,000.

The company that manages the Vancouver cruise ship terminal, Ceres Terminals Canada ULC, saw a $500,000 bump in its contract to $8.125 million. Its main job was staffing the province’s biggest clinic at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Pacific Destination Services Inc. was hired to operate clinics in West Vancouver and Sea-to-Sky for $1.1 million. But its contract was topped up to $5.5 million.

The Ministry of Health communications department did not respond to questions about the contracts and the total cost to date of the coronavirus immunization program. Total payments to contractors are expected in the summer release of the province’s public accounts sunshine list.

As of April 28, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said 11.6 million vaccine doses had been administered. A fourth round of vaccinations is continuing for adults. Health Canada is considering whether to approve shots for children under five.

The biggest pandemic-related increase listed in the report was to KPMG. Originally hired for $750,000 on May 7, 2020, the firm’s agreement is now worth $4.034 million for PPE sourcing for short-term needs and long-term stockpiling.