Monday, July 15, 2024

The smell test

Missing from the discussion on whether to build a garbage incinerator in the Pontiac has been a factual information base. Last week’s decision by Pontiac County mayors to go ahead with the development of a business plan on the project is a first step towards filling that void.
Questions of process, unfortunately, continue to dog the initiative. And that’s important because, at the end of the day, whatever happens needs to have been the outcome of a process in which the public has confidence.
The decision by the mayors to skip an open bidding process fails that test. There are circumstances when the practice of sole-source bidding can be justified if it can be shown that there is only one company that could possibly fill the bill. The warden has asserted that Deloitte is such a company, and bases her assessment on the fact that Deloitte did the study on the Durham-York facility.
But that is problematic.
Deloitte may well be the only company qualified to conduct such a study. Or maybe there are others. Who knows? The beauty of an open-bidding process is that you don’t have to take the word of one person on which company to hire. It’s an impartial process in which a team of people gets to compare a host of potential suppliers and choose the one best-suited to the project and the budget.
Is it not possible that there might be another company out there that is even more up-to-speed on the current state of the art in incineration than Deloitte which did its study on Durham-York years ago? It seems fairly probable that some things might have changed since then in terms of technology, environmental regulation, public tolerances of toxins and carbon emissions, and the cost of things, to name a few, not to mention staff turnover at Deloitte itself.
We have no doubt that the warden favours Deloitte for what she feels are good reasons. But turning to a company that is known to have produced the favourable findings you are hoping will be found here, all on one person’s say-so, risks appearing perhaps a bit too convenient. Even if it has been endorsed by a dozen mayors, we must ask where is the evidence underlying that endorsement?
It’s a question of due diligence. It is the only way to avoid suspicions of favouritism in the parceling out of public money. It’s fundamental to making a good, fully-informed choice. And it is the only route to earning public buy-in.
It could well be that in a competive process, it would be Deloitte that prevails. In such a process, much can be learned from reviewing the pitches of different companies, an educational opportunity that would foolish to squander for the sake of expedience.
People may agree with it. People may disagree with it. But we will all have to accept and live with the outcome of the decision on whether to burn garbage in the Pontiac. And that will be possible only if the process by which we get there passes the smell test.

Charles Dickson


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