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Cameron calls on city to hire more local companies

Kirk Cameron says that the City of Whitehorse doesn't spend enough of its money on hiring local companies.

Kirk Cameron says that the City of Whitehorse doesn’t spend enough of its money on hiring local companies.

But the city councillor failed to win support from many of his colleagues when he proposed on Monday that the city change its contracting rules.

The administration will review these rules in December, but Cameron wanted to fast-track this process to prevent other local companies from losing out in the meantime.

Several councillors expressed concern that Cameron’s motion was too vague.

“If you have something specific that you would like to change, bring it forward as an amendment. Don’t go gutting all these policies,” said Coun. Dave Stockdale.

Coun. Betty Irwin echoed these concerns. “‘Maximum benefits do accrue to its citizens’? What do you mean by that? I think the wording in this motion is so vague and phrases like that really bother me,” she said.

The city already gives preferential treatment to local companies, “because we were giving contracts to other people who didn’t have offices in town,” added Stockdale.

The veteran councillor, who is serving his eleventh term on council, acknowledged that half of the current council is new and may be unfamiliar with polices that have been “hashed out and beaten up around” the table for the past decade.

There are two main types of city contracts, said acting city manager Brian Crist. “Value-driven” tenders, which often deal with consulting companies, are more likely to put greater weight on hiring locals, who may be in a better position to provide advice. “Price-driven” tenders, meanwhile, tend to go to the lowest bidder.

Free trade agreements also offer some restrictions on how the city can award contracts, said Crist.

Typically, local companies win about five per cent of the city’s contracts, he said. But that number can be as high as 20 per cent.

Those numbers could be reviewed, said Mayor Dan Curtis. But he reminded council of the fine line between getting good value-for-money for taxpayers and supporting local businesses.

“We live in a very, very competitive world,” he said to council.

Cameron defended himself when Coun. Mike Gladish said the motion sounded “more like a political statement.”

“I’m really not happy with being accused of making political statements. This is a legitimate request,” said Cameron, who said that he ran on a platform to protect taxpayers and local businesses.

Cameron takes the issue personally, as he himself lost a contract in 2005 as a former general manager of Gartner Lee Ltd., an environmental consulting company. “We lost a $100,000 contract by a thousand dollars and there was no discretion, no room for council to make any judgment on that,” he said.

Gartner Lee employed 12 people, Cameron said. He doesn’t expect that up to 50 per cent of contracts be awarded to local companies - he said he would just like to see the rate stay at three to five per cent.

“Needless to say, I’ve been cranky on this issue for a long time now,” he said. “I want to make sure council does something about it.”

In the end, only Cameron and Coun. John Streicker agreed to the motion.

Contact Krystle Alarcon at