Lois Moorcroft calls for a stronger Yukon procurement policy

On Tuesday, November 10th Yukon NDP Highways and Public Works Critic Lois Moorcroft asked the following question about the government's weakened local procurement provisions:

Lois Moorcroft (MLA for Copperbelt South): Yukon government spends 25 cents of every dollar purchasing goods and services. When and where this public money is spent has a major impact on local jobs, the viability of Yukon businesses and the well-being of communities. In 2009, a joint panel including representatives of Yukon Chamber of Commerce, Yukon Contractors Association and Vuntut Gwitchin Development Corporation identified Yukon hire and contract as a priority for improving Yukon procurement. Instead, in 2013, this government removed several provisions from its procurement policy, making it harder for local Yukon businesses to benefit from government purchases. Once it’s changed, it means bidders are no longer required to make best efforts to invite Yukon business to bid on subcontracts.

Mr. Speaker, why did this government remove local benefits from its procurement directive against the advice of local businesses?

Minister of Highways and Public Works Scott Kent: Over the past five years, our investments in major capital works projects have consistently put Yukoners to work, benefitting many local contractors, suppliers and service companies. As I’ve mentioned previously during this sitting, aside from the F.H. Collins replacement project, each of Property Management Division’s top 15 major capital works projects since 2010 have been awarded to and delivered by local Yukon firms.

That F.H. Collins project — of course we spoke of the number of local subcontractors that have been active with that project and 75 percent is the number that we’ve seen for local employment on that project. When it comes to the Transportation division, since 2011, 70 percent of Transportation Engineering branch’s top 10 major works projects were awarded to and delivered by local Yukon contractors.

The contracting community here in the territory is very capable of delivering on these projects and they’re doing a great job. We have a local labour force in place that is highly qualified and skilled and able to provide the necessary labour to these larger projects. We have a business incentive policy run by the Minister of Economic Development that encourages local labour as well as locally manufactured goods.

We continue to see excellent results on a local front from the contracting that we procure here in the territory.

Ms. Moorcroft: This government made a choice to remove local preferences from his procurement directive. By removing language about benefitting Yukon residents and businesses, this government prioritized its ideology over Yukoners’ economic well-being. At the time of the change, a government spokesperson said, “We recognize that Yukon is a part of the global economy and we have to play by the same rules as everyone else”. This is a reference to the Agreement on Internal Trade or AIT. The Yukon, like NWT, had exemptions built into the AIT in recognition that we are a jurisdiction of less than 40,000 people, not 13 million like Ontario.

Will the minister explain why his government is telling Yukon businesses they will work with them to get more local benefits when they have actively worked to undermine those benefits?

Mr. Kent: Again, just to reiterate, we’ve seen 14 of 15 major capital projects delivered by Property Management over the past number of years awarded to local firms, the one exception being F.H. Collins. The numbers speak for themselves — 75 percent local labour and a number of subcontractors associated with that project. The Transportation division as well as ICT division of Highways and Public Works continue to provide contracting opportunities for local businesses.

Earlier in this Sitting, we announced a $2-million expansion to an IT envelope — an envelope that was brought in by a Yukon Party government that will provide not only welcome services to Yukoners, but also provide opportunities for a growing and expanding knowledge sector.

One of the other things that I think is exciting is the expertise that Yukon firms show in delivering projects beyond our borders. There are a number of road building companies active in projects in northeastern BC on the Alaska Highway. We see opportunities for our IT companies to grow beyond our borders and deliver projects elsewhere.

We think that by being part of the Agreement on Internal Trade — it’s important for not only us to get the prices but also the local opportunities for contractors to work beyond our borders and deliver their expertise elsewhere.

Ms. Moorcroft: This government talks about bringing the Yukon into line with other jurisdictions even when our standards are higher. They say they’ll listen and work with Yukon businesses even when the problem they’re discussing is one of their own creation. Even now, this government is sitting idle instead of preparing for the upcoming renewal of the AIT. This government told Yukon business and industry back in February that there would be no formal consultation on what changes to the AIT might benefit Yukon even though the 2009 contracting regulations review recommended exactly that.

Mr. Speaker, the Yukon economy continues to decline and local industry is calling for more local benefits. What direction has the government given the minister for the upcoming AIT renewal negotiations, and based on what consultation with Yukon businesses?

Economic Development Minister Stacey Hassard: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yukon works with other Canadian governments to reduce unnecessary barriers to trade, because the free flow of people, goods, services and investments across Canada supports stronger economies. Yukon is participating in negotiations for a renewed Agreement on Internal Trade, and it’s focused on the areas of government procurement, goods, services, investment, technical barriers to trade and regulatory corporation.

As well, Mr. Speaker, in this sparsely populated jurisdiction with a number of developing economic sectors, an important objective in negotiations is ensuring that Yukon continues to have the tools necessary to achieve economic strength and diversification.


Photo: pintoys / flickr. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.