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FOUR months after rolling out an online mental health therapy service for Manitobans in need of help to cope with COVID-19, the Pallister government says it finally has a formal contract with provider Morneau Shepell.
Details of the contract, signed this week, will soon be posted on the province’s website, a government official said Friday, after inquiries from the Free Press.
On July 3, the government revealed it had not yet signed a contract with the Ontario firm, after a freedom of information request by the NDP turned up no record of it. The government said at the time it had signed a term sheet — a non-binding agreement setting out the basic terms and conditions of the deal — with the company, and was working to finalize a contract.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen announced the partnership with Morneau Shepell on March 27. A total of $4.5 million was earmarked for the service, which is free to Manitobans. Funding was to last for up to a year.
The online therapy program (AbilitiCBT), offered in both English and French, is available to those age 16 and older. Clients are paired with a therapist, lined up by Morneau Shepell, for 12 weeks. The program can be accessed through a smartphone, tablet or computer. As of Thursday, 2,814 Manitobans had registered for it.
The government has been criticized for turning to a large firm with a network of therapists across the country to supply the service when it could have contracted directly with local providers. The government said it turned to the company because it could provide therapy right away.
On Friday, the NDP said that a subsequent freedom of information request, directed to the Department of Central Services, yielded no record of the term sheet the government spoke about earlier in the month. NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government needed to explain why it awarded the untendered work to Morneau Shepell without observing normal protocols.
Late Friday, a government spokesman said the provincial Treasury Board Secretariat finalized and signed the contract with the company this week. A copy of it will be posted on the government’s proactive disclosure website, he said.
The government did not reveal what payments, if any, have been made to the company so far.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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