Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vaccine centre sparks Tory, Liberal battle

Consultant quits after accidentally sending email on behalf of Duguid

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OTTAWA -- A part-time communications consultant for the International Centre for Infectious Diseases resigned Monday after he accidentally sent an email on behalf of the Liberal campaign of Winnipeg South candidate Terry Duguid from an ICID email account.

Dougald Lamont's resignation is the latest twist in a partisan battle of wills some suspect may be a factor in the shelving of an $88-million HIV pilot vaccine manufacturing facility.

Lamont issued his resignation Monday morning after he realized he'd used the wrong account to send a media notice about an event with Duguid and Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

Lamont, a well-known Manitoba Liberal party organizer with a private communications consulting business, had a part-time contract with ICID but also worked for Duguid's campaign. In an email apologizing for the mistake Monday, he explained he was working from a home computer that has access to both email accounts and he accidentally emailed the wrong group.

He said he resigned because he doesn't want his Liberal connections to harm ICID's ongoing relationship with Ottawa, or its federal funding agreements.

"I don't want to be an obstacle," he said.

Lamont said he doesn't think it should matter whether he does volunteer work for a political party and also works for an agency partly funded by the federal government, but he said he felt it necessary to step down because of ongoing concerns about the Liberal campaign of Duguid, ICID's former CEO.

"There has been a presumption (ICID) is a partisan organization," said Lamont. "It is not."

ICID CEO Heather Medwick was unavailable to respond to Lamont's resignation Monday.

Manitoba senior minister Vic Toews did not make himself available for an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press Monday. Instead, his office issued a written statement via email about Lamont's mistake.

"I was somewhat dismayed to see that this non-partisan, scientific organization had apparently chosen to enter the political fray by issuing a news release on behalf of the official opposition," reads the statement. "It seemed inconsistent with the very noble pursuit of science. Science is about neutral fact-finding and, in this case, the critical health and safety of Canadians. I would be disappointed if this entire episode serves to suggest to the Canadian public that there is another partisan agenda at play."

Lamont told the Free Press Monday he knows Duguid's candidacy was raised last summer as an issue for ICID's bid for the vaccine facility. The facility was to be the signature component of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, a joint venture of the federal government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Last month, the four bidders, including a consortium led by ICID, were told by the Public Health Agency of Canada their bids were not successful, but no reason has yet been given, nor an explanation of what might happen with the facility. Duguid said Monday he made the decision to resign as ICID CEO when he decided he would run in Winnipeg South. In August, he gave ICID a month's notice.

"A message got to me very quickly that I was to get out of my office immediately," said Duguid.

He says he was told if he didn't leave right away, it could jeopardize ICID's bid for the HIV-vaccine manufacturing facility. "I was out in two days," he said. At some point in January, however, ICID received a call from someone in Toews' office asking about Duguid's affiliation with ICID.

An email from Toews' office, forwarded to the Free Press, points out Duguid had not entirely severed his ICID ties. In fact, he was still on contract to work part-time on its bio-safety file.

Duguid has had the contract since last August. He did not divulge the information when he resigned, but said Monday he wasn't hiding it, either.

"I was asked to stay by the executive committee of the board," he said. "I accepted. I don't see an issue with that at all."

Last week, Toews himself noted Duguid's political and ICID ties in an email about the Free Press's coverage of the HIV facility.

"Our response to this news report and editorial will not be determined by the political aspirations of a Liberal candidate in South Winnipeg, who despite public statements to the contrary, did not sever his working relationship with ICID when he left his position as the CEO of ICID," wrote Toews.

Manitoba NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis said it shouldn't matter whether anyone from ICID was running for political office with any party.

"I thought we lived in a free and democratic society, which meant you could run for office and still hold a government job," said Wasylycia-Leis.

She said if Winnipeg and the global fight against AIDS lost out on the facility because Terry Duguid decided to run for the federal Liberals, that would be "deplorable."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2010 A3

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