The Yukon government is taking advantage of new trade rules that allow it to limit certain contracts to only Yukon companies.
But getting any further specifics on how the government is spending that public money is more of a challenge, even when a few of the tenders have already gone out. That’s because those tenders are not available on the government’s public system.
Highways and Public Works Minster Richard Mostyn touched on the government’s plans this week at the annual Industry Conference in Whitehorse.
A part of the Canadian Free Trade Agreement created last year means the Yukon can pick up to 10 contracts per year worth less than a million dollars each and allow only Yukon companies to bid on them.
In an interview Feb. 22 Mostyn said the government is going to issue 10 contracts by the end of March using the exception. That means those contracts will qualify as being part of the 2017-18 fiscal year which is about to end.
Details of which projects have been chosen will be made public “sometime in early March” Mostyn said. “I think there’s a little bit more work to be done on putting those contracts out.”
But three of the 10 contracts have already been let, the minister confirmed.
After originally not saying which projects those were, the department of Highways and Public Works revealed tenders have been issued to have the roofs replaced at the school in Carcross and at the WCB building in Whitehorse. The third tender relates to the Porter Creek Secondary School generator. No other details were provided.
Unlike most government contracts that are publicly available, these three tenders are “invitational” meaning they are not posted on the government’s public tender management system.
Department spokesperson Cassandra Kelly said the tenders won’t be going online because invitational tenders are “not considered a public tender.”
They are “a request that goes out to a limited number of bidders or proponents who have been identified by project managers,” she said. They’re chosen based on market research, by looking at a supplier directory or by looking at company’s who have bid on similar tenders in the past.
Kelly said she “couldn’t speak to” why invitational tenders are not a part of the public registry. She said invitational tenders are used to “to ensure that we can limit competition and take the greatest advantage of this opportunity to benefit our local economies.”
She did not mention whether the other seven contracts slated to be issued under the new rules would also be invitational.
The public will be informed by March 1 which 10 projects the government has chosen. At that point the projects’ names, locations and details of how they meet the requirements of the trade agreement will be posted on the government’s procurement website, not the tender site.
Projects are registered on the public contract registry once there is a contract, Kelly said.
It doesn’t appear Mostyn knew the tenders that had already been issued would not be available publicly.
When questioned about why projects that had already been tendered were being kept private he said someone “may be able to go on the tender management system to see what they are.”
Public tenders would have details including a closing date and specifics about what work was going to be done and when. The public would also be able to see which companies were interested in bidding and what bids had been placed after a tender closed.
The late-night email from Kelly revealing which three tenders had been issued included no other details.
Mostyn said his department has worked with other departments to come up with criteria for which projects would qualify for the exception, but wouldn’t say what that criteria was. That detail will be coming “in the coming weeks,” he said.
Mostyn said the projects are being distributed between Whitehorse and the communities.
None would get close to being worth the $1 million cap, he said.
“It will be somewhere I would think in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each of these contracts.”
Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard said he will be waiting to see what criteria the government has used to pick projects.
He criticized the Liberals for taking too long to make a decision.
“I think that because the minister has delayed so long in starting to use it there’s been missed opportunities,” he said.
“I can’t say which opportunities have been missed because we may never know just because of the fact that the master has waited so long to do this.”
Mostyn said the Yukon will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to use this part of the new trade deal.
He said his department will keep an eye on how this process works and refine it for the next fiscal year.
“In broad strokes what we wanted to accomplish was to keep as much money in the Yukon economy as we could instead of flushing it all beyond the borders to other jurisdictions.”
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