Territory mulls ways to hire more local companies

An advisory panel has released a set of 11 recommendations to improve the Yukon government's procurement process and make it easier for Yukon businesses to bid on and win government contracts.

An advisory panel has released a set of 11 recommendations to improve the Yukon government’s procurement process and make it easier for Yukon businesses to bid on and win government contracts.

The suggestions range from simplifying bid requirements to ensuring that government staff have the expertise to manage procurement.

The report is the product of the advisory panel’s consultation with local businesses, which began last November.

“One of the most consistent messages that I think vendors brought was really the question of whether government could be doing more with procurement to support local businesses,” said Leslie Anderson, the panel’s chair.

A number of the recommendations are aimed at making the procurement process easier for Yukon companies.

For instance, the panel suggests that the government pilot a “short-form request for proposals format,” and minimize the number of mandatory requirements. That might include easing off on insurance requirements for certain contracts, Anderson said.

“Essentially, those kinds of things are often tied up in making the documents simpler and more straightforward for people to work with and respond to,” she said.

The panel also recommends improving communication between the government and local businesses, and possibly training vendors to improve their chances of winning contracts.

Paul Gruner, a board member of the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce, said some of the recommendations would be easy to implement and would make a big difference for local companies.

He pointed to one suggestion, which calls on the government to “provide early notice of anticipated projects and earlier tendering of construction projects where possible.”

Gruner said few construction tenders have come out so far this year. That’s a problem, because late contracts often aren’t awarded until partway through the construction season. That can put a lot of pressure on local contractors.

“We need to have much more time in terms of the tendering process outside the construction season,” he said. “That is 110 per cent within the control of the current administration and bureaucracy.”

Peter Turner, president of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, said the recommendation to make sure government staff have the proper training is “quite frankly critical.”

He said the government needs a more consistent training process and possibly a certification process for people dealing with requests for proposals.

Turner said the report has some good suggestions, but questioned how they will be executed. “The real proof is in the pudding, as it were.”

For the time being, the government has made no commitment to implement the panel’s recommendations. It plans to meet with the various chambers of commerce this month to discuss the report, and to make a presentation at the Association of Yukon Communities annual general meeting.

“Right now, it’s all about figuring out what all is in the report,” said Erin Loxam, a spokesperson for Highways and Public Works, the department that manages procurement.

But the report doesn’t seem to address a couple of key commitments Premier Darrell Pasloski made during a Yukon Chamber of Commerce luncheon last month, when he promised to improve Yukon’s procurement process.

“For starters, to be listed as a Yukon company, you will actually have to be a Yukon company,” he said at the time.

According to Yukon’s supplier directory, Yukon businesses must employ Yukon residents, own property in the Yukon, operate an office year-round in the Yukon and be owned 50 per cent or more by Yukon residents.

But the panel advisory report doesn’t make any suggestions about how the definition of a Yukon business should be changed. “We didn’t actually look at that at all, I guess because vendors didn’t directly raise it,” Anderson said.

Pasloski also promised to replace the bid challenge committee, which reviews complaints from businesses about the tender process, “with something that actually works.”

Anderson said a number of local vendors did complain about the bid challenge process. “People didn’t feel certain that their complaint would be heard,” she explained.

She also said the bid challenge committee can’t stop a contract or change who a contract is awarded to, which limits its ability to resolve disputes.

The advisory panel’s report does recommend improving timelines and training for the bid challenge committee.

But Anderson said the Yukon government can’t actually overhaul the bid challenge committee on its own, because the process is governed by the Agreement on Internal Trade, which regulates trade across the country. That agreement is currently being renegotiated.

It remains unclear, therefore, how Yukon’s procurement process will change before this year’s territorial election.

“The panel’s work is in framing the issues that we heard from vendors and offering to government some suggestions for how to tackle those,” Anderson said. “How government chooses to move on that is up to the government.”

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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