MONTREAL - Canada's signature aid project in Haiti will be carried out by a company with ties to the Conservative party after it was awarded the multimillion-dollar contract without a public bidding process.

A subsidiary of Calgary-based ATCO Ltd., which has three Tory donors on its board of directors, was handed the $12-million contract to build temporary offices in Port-au-Prince for the Haitian government.

Ottawa has been angling to build that shelter since the week after the earthquake, with officials immediately urging Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to let Canada take the lead on such a project.

The initiative was eventually announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who made that commitment the centrepiece of his own visit to Haiti last month.

The federal government opted to bypass procurement guidelines that usually require government contracts of more than $25,000 to be submitted to a public tendering process.

It also chose not to post an Advance Contract Award Notice, which in cases where there is no tendering process normally gives rival businesses an opportunity to submit counter-proposals.

The government says the normal tendering process can take at least three months, while the needs in Haiti are desperate and immediate.

"Given the urgency of the situation in Haiti and the tight timelines, this contract may be awarded under . . . emergency contracting authorities," the Public Works Department said in an email.

The contract was awarded to ATCO Structures and Logistics, which the department said was "the only known firm with the necessary expertise and immediate capacity to deliver a rapid turnkey solution."

The company has extensive experience with such projects, having performed similar work for NATO and the United Nations, in both Afghanistan and Bosnia.

ATCO Ltd. also has significant political connections.

The chairman of the board, Ronald D. Southern, has donated $3,750 to the Conservative party since 2007, including a $750 donation to Harper's 2008 riding campaign in Calgary Southwest.

The board also includes Don Mazankowski, a former finance minister under Brian Mulroney, who has donated $1,350 to the Conservatives since 2007.

The company's corporate director, Robert T. Booth, also made a $411 contribution to Peter MacKay's re-election campaign in 2008.

Public Works Canada said political ties had no influence on their decision and that no other company was ever considered for the project.

However, officials at the Canadian International Development Agency contradicted that statement. According to CIDA, several other companies were considered.

The opposition says the process should, in either case, have been more transparent.

"The principle of having tenders is pretty basic to Canadian public policy," said Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic. "We all know that time is of the essence, but that's no excuse for excluding tenders altogether."

ATCO Group (TSX:ACO.X), the parent company, is one of Calgary's major employers and boasts more than 7,500 workers worldwide in sectors ranging from construction, to energy, to building maintenance.

Its Structures and Logistics subsidiary has provided temporary shelter and operational support for several foreign missions, including at Kandahar Airfield, where most of Canada's 2,800 troops in Afghanistan are based.

An executive at the subsidiary declined to comment on political ties, but said it was federal officials at CIDA who first contacted the company about the Haiti project.

He said the company has a long history of providing services quickly in hostile environments, including in the aftermath of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake.

"What we're trying to accomplish here (in Haiti) is bring over the expertise we have in terms of the rapid deployment, but definitely use as much local involvement as we possible can," said George Lidgett, executive vice-president of operations.

This marks the fourth time in the last ten years that ATCO has been awarded a CIDA-run contract, though the value for the three previous projects totaled only $270,000.

ATCO will be providing temporary office buildings at three different sites in Port-au-Prince, accommodating some 500 Haitian public servants from various ministries.

The Haitian government lost a number of its buildings in the Jan. 12 quake, from the presidential palace to several departments including the Ministry of Education.

The temporary buildings are designed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane.

They are to begin arriving this week.