CleanBC program investigation prompts fear of provincial startup fallout from cleantech and grant experts

“The first people that lose out are the companies [that] the program was set up for.”

Allegations of conflict of interest at British Columbia (BC) cleantech grant programs for electric vehicles (EVs) have sparked a provincial investigation into MNP’s administration approach. 

Multiple grant and cleantech experts BetaKit spoke with believe that a review is warranted but expressed worry that the outcome for BC tech firms will be similar to the fallout from the Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) scandal, albeit on a much smaller scale. 

“The government needs to deploy capital into programs that have as much of the dollars being invested into the recipients as possible.”

Jeanette Jackson, Foresight Canada

In an interview with BetaKit, Jeanette Jackson, CEO of Vancouver-based cleantech accelerator Foresight Canada, noted that in situations like this, “The first people that lose out are the companies [that] the program was set up for.”

Jackson lamented that the review comes as startups across the country continue to await funding from SDTC—the embattled federal cleantech investment agency that has also been investigated for conflicts of interest in a process that has now dragged on for about a year.

“The best outcome is to do [this] review quickly and come to an agreement that gets the money flowing again soon,” Jackson added.

In a recent TikTok video, Edison Motors founder and CEO Chace Barber claimed that, following an unsuccessful application, MNP “strongly encouraged” the BC EV manufacturer to leverage its grant-writing services in exchange for a 20 percent “success fee,” only to later learn MNP was also administering the program in question. “The company that’s deciding the grants is also writing grants for companies applying for the grants—that seems shady,” he said.

Barber said he brought what he had learned to the attention of government officials. According to a report from The Orca, members of BC’s legislative assembly, including BC United’s Todd Stone and BC Conservative party leader John Rustad, have also claimed to have received evidence of problems with this program from other individuals and companies. Now, BC’s auditor and comptroller generals are investigating these allegations. 

Asked if new funding through these EV grant programs has been halted while this review is completed, a spokesperson for BC’s Ministry of Energy told BetaKit, “MNP’s administration role in the [CleanBC] Advanced Research and Commercialization Program (ARC), inclusive of the Commercial Vehicle Innovation Challenge (CVIC) is paused, but the province continues to review and manage applications to ensure that the process is fair for all applicants.”

A Calgary-based accounting, tax, and business consulting firm, MNP was hired to administer at least two BC cleantech grant programs, including CleanBC ARC, which provides cost-shared funding to BC companies operating in the zero-emission vehicle supply chain—including through CVIC—and the CleanBC Go Electric Commercial Vehicle Pilots initiatives. MNP also helps companies complete grant applications. BetaKit has reached out to MNP for comment on the situation, but the company did not respond by publication time.

Asked if they had ever encountered a situation where the same firm administers a grant program while also charging companies to apply on their behalf, multiple cleantech and grant experts BetaKit spoke with indicated that they had not.

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“We have not seen that, and I definitely don’t agree with it,” said Jackson. “The government needs to deploy capital into programs that have as much of the dollars being invested into the recipients as possible.”

BC’s opposition parties initially called for an independent probe last week, but the province’s ruling NDP government shot that motion down. This week, following backlash after Barber’s TikTok video went viral, the BC government ordered its auditor and comptroller generals to proceed with an investigation into MNP’s administration of these grants, citing it had received new information.

“Over the weekend, we received new information that’s raised further questions regarding MNP’s administration of commercial vehicle grants,” the BC government spokesperson told BetaKit. “We’ve said all along that if new information was brought forward, we would review and take appropriate action.”

The spokesperson added, “We look forward to the results of those reviews—we understand how important this is to British Columbians.”

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Jackson noted that a failure of communication may have played a role here. “Large organizations have different teams with different services, programs, goals, and targets,” she added. “Sometimes those teams are not speaking to one another. This may be the case for MNP.”

The Foresight CEO and other cleantech and grant experts indicated that they could not comment on how onerous the application process for this specific program was, but noted that Canadian firms often seek outside help when applying for grants because doing so can be difficult.

Brianna Blaney, co-founder and CEO of Vancouver FinTech startup Pocketed, also knows the space—and how complicated it can be.  Blaney told BetaKit that she built Pocketed to help businesses “navigate the complex landscape of grants, tax credits, and incentives.”

“Government funding is crucial to supporting businesses in Canada,” said Blaney. “Any time public funds are involved, it’s paramount to prioritize transparency.”

Feature image courtesy Edison Motors.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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