The Yukon government has reversed its stance on awarding a nearly $1-million construction management contract related to Whitehorse’s new French school to a firm from the Northwest Territories, with a department minister now saying it was a “mistake.”
In an interview Sept. 24, Department of Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn confirmed that the government has cancelled the remainder of its $904,086 contract with Yellowknife-based Taylor Architectural Group (TAG) and will instead be asking local companies to submit bids to complete the rest of the work.
The government awarded the contract to TAG back in April via a standing offer agreement. Local architectural firms criticized the decision, accusing the government of awarding the contract via a non-competitive process, making unnecessary decisions on behalf of Yukon businesses and supporting Outside companies instead of local ones.
“We heard from contractors that they were not happy with the process and they wanted the opportunity to bid on this and they weren’t given that opportunity,” Mostyn said. “ … Issuing a standing offer to an Outside firm for that sum of money did not align with our commitments and goals, so we’re moving to a more competitive bidding process and initially not doing that was a mistake.”
TAG had already completed two phases of work and was ready to move on to the third when the Yukon government cancelled the contract. The remaining work is worth an estimated $650,000 to $750,000, and the Yukon government will be using one of its 10 $1-million exceptions — a term under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement where, for certain procurements, it can limit bidders to local businesses — to ensure that only Yukon companies will be able to submit bids to complete the job.
In an interview Sept. 25, Yukon Contractors Association president Terry Sherman said he found the government admitting and addressing it is “honourable,” and that a complaint the association received about the TAG contract has since been resolved.
“I like giving credit where credit is due and Minister (of Economic Development and deputy premier Ranj) Pillai and Minister Mostyn did an exceptional job of listening to the individuals in the Yukon and they took the correct action,” Sherman said.
In an email, Antonio Zedda, co-founder of the Whitehorse-based Kobayashi + Zedda Architects (KZA) and an outspoken critic of the TAG contract, also said he thought the Yukon government made the right decision. KZA originally had the construction management contract but it was mutually terminated once construction reached Phase 4.
“…We commend the Yukon Government in its decision to correct the mistake that was made,” Zedda wrote in an email Sept. 25. “Moving forward, (its) recommitment to maximizing contract and tender opportunities for Yukon-based businesses and residents is a campaign promise that we hope is fulfilled fully.”
Mostyn said he started an investigation into the TAG contract in late August that ultimately led to him deciding to cancel it. He declined to go into detail about how the contract was awarded or whether any staff would face disciplinary measures.
“I don’t talk about human resource issues publicly. I will say though that … everybody makes mistakes. I challenge anybody to show that they’ve never made a mistake,” he said, adding that the department has “been working exceedingly hard and doing an awful lot of excellent work to improve the way the we buy goods and services in this territory, and it is vital that we not lose sight of that.”
Mostyn’s comments contrast with the ones assistant deputy minister of capital planning Scott Milton made earlier this month, when the issue first came to light. Milton had said the government awarded the contract to TAG so that the contract for the actual construction of the school would be “open to as many Yukon firms as possible” and that getting on to the standing offer agreement list is itself a competitive process.
Milton had also said that the department followed “all of our own rules and directives” when it awarded the contract to TAG, but Mostyn said Sept. 24 that, had the government continued with the contract, it would have violated its own regulation to not award contracts via standing offer agreements for work worth more than $250,000.
The regulation was not violated in the end because the government ended TAG’s contract before the company did more than $250,000 of work.
The department is currently putting together its request for proposals and compiling a list of local companies to which it will send invitations to submit proposals. Mostyn said he expects the new contract to be awarded some time “after the middle of October,” and that he’s “fairly confident” that the school will still be completed by the previously-established deadline.
Construction of the $27.5-million French high school, to be built on the site of the old F.H. Collins Secondary School, is scheduled to begin May 2019, with a completion date of November 2020.
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