The Yukon government is planning changes to the tender process to help local contractors, but it has yet to give much detail about what those changes will be.
Premier Darrell Pasloski outlined the plan during a pre-budget speech at the Yukon Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week.
“For starters, to be listed as a Yukon company, you will actually have to be a Yukon company,” he said. “Over time, our standards have become too lax on what it means to be local. Our government will fix that.”
Pasloski also said that tenders will include more benefits to being local.
“We are going to eliminate tender provisions that block locals from bidding,” he continued. “And we are going to replace the bid challenge committee with something that actually works.”
But it’s unclear what form these changes will take. Pasloski told the News that a procurement advisory panel is working on recommendations that will be tabled later this spring in the legislative assembly.
The Department of Highways and Public Works, which oversees the tender process, did not respond to a request about the current requirements for a company to be considered local and about what the problems are with the bid challenge committee. The announcement was met with skepticism from some in the business community.
“What does it mean to be local from the Yukon government’s perspective?” asked Lynn Hutton, president of the Yukon First Nation Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Chief Isaac Inc. “We appreciate that the government is trying, but we’re going to need some more details.”
Paul Gruner, CEO of Castle Rock Enterprises and a board member of the First Nation Chamber of Commerce, said he’s not sure what the issues are with the bid challenge committee because most local companies don’t have the time or resources to challenge a bid.
“That sounds to me more like a smokescreen than anything else,” he said.
Peter Turner, president of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, said Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have more stringent requirements for what makes a company local. He said the Yukon government might consider similar standards here.
He also pointed out that British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have signed the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, which removes trade barriers between the three provinces. He said that agreement makes it more difficult for Yukon companies to bid on Outside contracts, but Outside companies don’t face similar barriers when they bid in the Yukon.
“When the rubber hits the road, it’s a little bit more concerning for the Yukon, because we’re surrounded by provinces and territories that are more protectionist,” he said.
Negotiations over the renewal of Canada’s Agreement on Internal Trade have been ongoing since June 2015. Turner said that if the new agreement isn’t any more favourable to Yukon companies, the territorial government could start including local knowledge as one of the criteria in its requests for proposal.
“That might help local companies to better compete,” he said.
For the time being, the premier has made one tangible move to support local companies.
Last week, he wrote a memo to all Yukon government employees urging them to “buy local.”
“If it can be bought locally at a competitive price and you’re the one making the purchase for government, buy local,” he wrote. The directive was in support of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce’s “Look Inside” campaign, which promotes local businesses.
But NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson said the memo is “insulting” to public servants.
“When they’re given the government credit card and they’re asked to make purchases, they are buying from local stores,” she said.
Hanson said mine remediation is one area where the Yukon government needs to do more to support local companies. She pointed out that the Faro mine site will require care and maintenance work for many decades, but a recent four-year contract was awarded to Calgary-based Parsons Corporation, a company headquartered in Pasadena, California.
“We should be maximizing the local benefits of the expenditures on remediation of those contaminated mine sites,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we build the expertise in the North?”
Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said government interference is the major problem with the existing procurement process.
He referred to the new F.H. Collins school, pointing out that the government added a temporary gym and geothermal heating to the project after it had been put out to tender for the first time.
“When we’re putting things out to tender and the design hasn’t even been finished yet, that’s problematic,” he said. “Because you’ve got companies bidding on things, and they don’t even know what to bid on yet.”
That project was eventually tendered a second time, after the original bids came in well over budget. The contract went to Yellowknife-based Clark Builders.
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