Territory revamps spending practices

The Yukon government is making changes to how it spends your money. The government is creating a central procurement office and revamping a host of regulations that determine how it seeks contracts and buys goods.

The Yukon government is making changes to how it spends your money.

The government is creating a central procurement office and revamping a host of regulations that determine how it seeks contracts and buys goods.

“The new office is going by the name the procurement support centre,” said Leslie Anderson, the project leader in charge of developing the new program.

“It in some ways is the focal point for the new changes. It will provide some support and advice for various departments and procurement authorities as they carry out their contracting tasks,” Anderson said.

But the new office won’t have the authority to spend taxpayers’ dollars on its own, Anderson said.

“The purchasing authority will still rest mostly with the departments, as will the sector experts. So, for example, if Highways and Public Works decides, or are told by the minister, that they need to build a new school, the procurement office can help the construction experts at HPW figure out exactly what their best options for a new school are, and how to source contractors and materials with the least amount of fuss,” Anderson said.

That’s good, because fuss is expensive.

Take the current Watson Lake and Dawson City hospital mess. Subcontractors on those projects are suing the general contractor, Dowland Contacting, and the Yukon Hospital Corporation over unpaid work at both sites. The government and the hospital corporation are insulated from risk by a bonding company, but the delays are still causing other expenses and cost overruns.

These new changes and the procurement office are an attempt to keep that from happening again, Anderson said, though it’s admittedly not perfect.

“I wouldn’t call it a silver bullet,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s a much more complicated world than it used to be for purchasing things. In the past it was a little bit easier to say ‘I want 20 pallets of paper.’

“Now we tend to be buying solutions to problems instead of items. We don’t say, here’s the building, build it. We say, we need a building, tell us what we should do.”

Anderson also said that complications with major infrastructure problems often aren’t a procurement problem, and while the new office can help government officials decide how to spend money, it can’t tell them why or why not to spend.

“If you’re going to build a new school, you probably have these three options, and the office can help make those clear. But it wouldn’t make decisions about whether to build a new school in the first place,” Anderson said.

But adding more government workers to the procurement pile is missing the point, said Jennifer Macgillivray, a veteran of the North’s construction industry and an expert in government contracts.

“They already have enough government workers. Adding more isn’t going to solve the problem,” Macgillivray said.

Macgillivray agrees that with major projects, the problems are often not with how the contracts are handed out, but with the contracts themselves.

Top-down pressure from project owners – in this case the government – to expedite building projects often makes for a working environment where the general contractor is caught between the owner’s demands and the subcontractor’s ability to work quickly enough. Instead, she would like to see collaborative contracts where, instead of pitting contractors and subcontractors against each other, all parties have a stake in making sure things run as smoothly as possible.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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