Opposition wants government to move faster on contracts

The Yukon government says changes to when contracts for seasonal projects are handed out will be implemented, but not until next year.

The Yukon government says changes to when contracts for seasonal projects are handed out will be implemented, but not until next year.

As part of their 2016 election campaign, the Liberals promised they would tender construction projects that are seasonally dependent no later than March each year.

The idea is to give contractors more time to plan their season.

No date was attached to the election promise, but the government hasn’t met that deadline for 2017. A spokesperson said the government plans to have tenders ready for March 2018.

“We’ve heard from the community that they would appreciate more time to prepare and plan for the coming construction season and we’re prepared to do that,” said a statement from Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn.

“Of course, we would have liked to have tendered more seasonally dependent contracts earlier this year, but the surprisingly late election call has pushed everything back.

“We’re still on track to deliver on this commitment in 2018.”

It’s too soon to know what having to push everything back will mean for the construction season.

As of April 4, 10 construction contracts have been handed out, or are pending award, since the Liberals took office, according to the government’s tender website. It’s not clear how many of those would qualify as seasonal. That number doesn’t include contracts given out by Yukon Housing.

Shaun Rudolph, president of Cobalt Construction, said it’s normal for tenders for the kind of roadwork his company bids on to be slow this time of year.

He said his industry is used to adapting and reacting when contracts come out.

Rudolph suspects more tenders will come once MLAs pass the territorial budget and the departments know exactly how much money they’re working with.

“In the past, after the government has approved their budget, the jobs start to come out fairly quick after that. (That’s) typically been done at the beginning of April, now I guess it’s the end of April.”

The next sitting of the Yukon legislative assembly is slated to start April 20, with a budget likely to pass shortly after. The government has insisted it needed extra time to come up with a complete picture of the territory’s books.

As of April 4 there were 19 open tenders on the government’s website. Not all would qualify as seasonal. They range from elevator inspections and bus purchases to construction work on schools.

There were 55 contracts, mostly construction work, on the list of projects forecast to go out to tender this summer. Most of them are smaller projects worth less than $5 million. It’s not an exhaustive list; projects can be added at any time.

At least one local contractor said he’s concerned that more tenders haven’t gone out yet.

In an emailed statement to the News, CastleRock Enterprises president Ron Bonnycastle said several Yukon projects that have have been approved through the Build Canada Fund and Yukon’s infrastructure plan haven’t gone to tender yet.

“As the construction season is fast approaching, and due to the length of our season, time is of the essence. There is also the chance that contracts may have to be cancelled due to the time sensitivity.”

Interim Yukon Party Leader Stacey Hassard said repairs to the Ross River bridge, as well as sewage projects in Haines Junction and Ross River are all contracts that he hoped would have have gone out to tender by now.

The Yukon government announced in January it had secured $2.25 million in federal money to finish repairing the bridge. The territory agreed to contribute $750,000 to the project.

A spokesperson for the Department of Community Services said the tender should go out in late May or early June. The Haines Junction and Ross River sewage projects could go out to tender this spring, but first require the Yukon government to approve its 25-per cent share of the project cost. The federal government is picking up the rest of the tab.

“We have such a short building season in the Yukon and to delay these projects unnecessarily just puts a burden on the contractors and causes the possibility of projects not moving forward,” Hassard said.

Hassard doesn’t buy the government’s explanation for not putting out more tenders. The 2016 election was only about one month later than past elections, he said.

“(There was) work that had been done by the government prior to the election, there was money committed, the planning had already taken place,” he said. “So I guess I don’t understand why that one month delay in the election would have made that much of a difference.”

Jeff Sloychuck with the Yukon Carpenters Union Local 2499 said the union is willing to give the government time to make changes to the way seasonal contracts are tendered.

He said the union has been having “really productive conversations” with the current government about improving the procurement process in the territory.

“There’s a lot of good will there,” he said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com