A request for proposals to privatize the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch was held transparently and without political interference, the minister responsible insisted on Friday.
Margaret McDiarmid, minister of labour, citizen’s services and open government, announced that there are four companies short-listed in the bidding rather than three as originally planned.
There was a tie for the third spot, so four proponents out of six submissions will continue through the process, she said.
The short list includes ContainerWorld Forwarding Services Inc., Exel Canada Ltd., Kuehne & Nagel Ltd., and Metro Supply Chain Group. Those companies now have an opportunity to refine their proposals based on discussions with the evaluation committee.
In a media teleconference, McDiarmid dodged questions about possible collusion or bid-rigging. The NDP has claimed that lobbying by Exel, which operates Alberta’s liquor distribution system, led the government to pursue privatization of the system.
McDiarmid has denied that claim, saying the government was already looking at privatization to help balance the budget.
“I don’t have knowledge of that, but that hasn’t been part of the process,” McDiarmid said. A fairness monitor has overseen a semi-blind selection of the short-list proponents to ensure that the proponents receive even-handed treatment, she said.
“There hasn’t been interference by politicians in this,” she said. “I am confident in the process.”
The government expects to select a proponent by October through back-and-forth discussions with the proponents, McDiarmid said.
“There will be further negotiations to come up with a contract.”
However, there remains a provision for canceling the process should the government find that there is not good value for taxpayers, she said.
Any new system would have to demonstrate itself to be more effective and efficient, and provide overall lower costs to government.
McDiarmid said some people oppose the sale but others feel the government isn’t going far enough.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to give as much information as we can so people feel they’ve got a window into the process. We are continuing to govern and have every intention of doing that. The way we get to a balanced budget is by doing things like this.”