Saskatchewan NDP and unions want changes to government procurement policies
Saskatchewan NDP and building trades representatives feel the procurement policies of the provincial government are not benefitting Saskatchewan workers.
NDP leader Ryan Meili and finance critic Trent Wotherspoon held a press conference outside the Chinook Power Station construction site near Swift Current, Oct. 5. They were joined by Saskatchewan Building Trades Executive Director Dion Malakoff and other union representatives.
“If you look around the parking lot at this site, the problem is easy to see,” Malakoff said. “This lot is filled with vehicles bearing out of province and even out of country license plates. Workers have come across Canada and the U.S. to construct this facility. All the while fully qualified skilled Saskatchewan tradespeople are left off the project and either are not working or have had to travel outside of the province to find work.”
According to Meili the spending of public dollars in Saskatchewan to build highways, schools and hospitals and to fund Crown corporation infrastructure projects need to create jobs for Saskatchewan workers, but instead the contracts are going to out-of-province companies.
Other provincial governments in western Canada have introduced measures to ensure that local workers will benefit from government projects. The Alberta and British Columbia governments have created community benefit agreements and the minimum construction wage system in Manitoba ensures that local construction firms can compete on public contracts.
“You see companies in British Columbia and Alberta and outside of the country getting the work here in front of those Saskatchewan companies,” he said. “You've got a different approach in British Columbia and Alberta, where they're moving more and more towards a community benefit model that recognizes when you have the local contractors that has more local value for keeping people employed, for having the spinoff into local expenditures, local purchasing of the materials, and that is really important when you look at what is going on in Saskatchewan's economy today.”
He added that the provincial government's procurement model is focused too much on the allocation of contracts to the lowest bidder.
“So you lose track of things like local content in terms of the companies that are working and the contribution beyond just the build and the larger community benefit,” he said. “That's part of the question that needs to be asked. You also need to be looking into quality, and sometimes you run into a situation where you get a lowest bid, but the quality isn't as good. So you actually have to come in later, fix it, upgrade it further, and it ends up costing more in the long run. So having upfront from day one a procurement process that's going to give you the best outcome, not only the very lowest price, is what needs to be changed.”
Wotherspoon noted that Saskatchewan companies and workers need a level playing field, but they have been shut out of projects through the provincial government's outsourcing approach to publicly funded developments.
“Government gave passing attention to the creation of Priority Saskatchewan, but they haven't improved procurement to the point that we're getting the value that we should and having workers engaged,” he said. “There has to be continued focus here and the fact of the matter is, the contracts were signed and the work is gone, whether it's the bypass or the schools or this project right here, and those jobs have shut out so many within this province.”
Building trades workers have worked 57 per cent fewer hours in 2017 than in 2012. Malakoff therefore believes it is important that the provincial government should do more to ensure that Saskatchewan workers are employed on construction projects in the province.
“Let me be clear, we have no objection with the free movement of labour between provinces and when there are more jobs than people, we welcome workers into Saskatchewan,” he said. “That's what we did during the boom years, but the present reality is undeniable. There are currently more workers than jobs in our province.”
Saskatchewan Building Trades is also calling on Crown corporations to ensure that their construction projects include opportunities for new apprentices.
“Providing opportunities for our young men and women in the trades, especially those from the indigenous communities, to work side by side with a veteran journeyperson ensure we will be able to meet the ongoing demand for skilled workers as the renewal of our province's ageing infrastructure continues into the future,” he said. “If we don't create these apprenticeship opportunities at Crown construction sites, we will only further undermine our homegrown workforce.”
The provincial government created SaskBuilds in 2012 as a Treasury Board Crown corporation to modernize government procurement practices and to take the lead on large public sector infrastructure projects. Meili believes it is time to review the procurement practices that were created by SaskBuilds.
“We're designing our procurement process not just in a way that doesn't benefit Saskatchewan companies, but that actually disadvantages them and makes them less likely to get these contracts and that's what needs to be changed,” he said. “I think we go back to the drawing board and start looking at a procurement process that is looking at what the community benefits are of the projects that we're building, how do we make sure that they are when we're spending public money, that we're employing Saskatchewan workers and doing that as a priority.”
According to SaskBuilds spokesperson Lisa Danyluk the Saskatchewan government is committed to ensuring that local companies have the opportunity to compete in and win contracts fairly, which was the reason for the launch of Priority Saskatchewan in June 2014.
She said in an e-mailed response to the Prairie Post that Priority Saskatchewan's procurement transformation action plan was released in March 2015 after broad consultation with Saskatchewan’s business community, suppliers and industry, and the plan continues to enjoy industry support from various organizations.
“The action plan has improved how we award contracts, including the implementation of ' Best Value' in procurement legislation, which ensures that 'Best Value' is the new basis for awarding contracts (rather than simply lowest price), which can take into account factors like quality, supplier experience and knowledge of local conditions,” she wrote. “Priority Saskatchewan is actively engaged with the Saskatchewan supplier community, and with Crowns to ensure the Crowns are familiar with the goods and services Saskatchewan suppliers can provide, and so that suppliers are familiar with procurement needs of our province’s Crown sector.”
Danyluk mentioned that the Chinook Power Station project has recently achieved a milestone of $125 million in Saskatchewan supplier content.
“We consider 'local' companies to be those that keep an office, hire workers and pay taxes in Saskatchewan,” she wrote. “The location of their head office/suites is not the determinant. This definition was proposed by industry during consultations.”
She noted that public-private partnership (P3) projects in the province are supporting local businesses and jobs. The different P3 projects in the province have created more than 12,000 jobs.
A total of 255 Saskatchewan-based companies have been involved in four P3 projects, representing 70 per cent of all business. These projects are the Regina Bypass (106 Saskatchewan-based companies), joint-use schools (73 Saskatchewan-based companies), The Meadows long-term care centre in Swift Current (54 Saskatchewan-based companies), and the Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford (31 Saskatchewan-based companies).
The Saskatchewan NDP and union representatives held a media conference about government procurement policies outside the Chinook Power Station construction site, Oct. 5. From left to right, Jeffrey Austman (Prairie Arctic Regional Council of Carpenters, Drywallers, Millwrights and Allied Workers), Trent Wotherspoon (NDP finance critic), Ryan Meili (NDP leader), Dion Malakoff (Saskatchewan Building Trades executive director), Tom Wagman (Prairie Arctic Regional Council of Carpenters, Drywallers, Millwrights and Allied Workers), Lyle Daniels (Saskatchewan Building Trades), and Chuck Rudder (International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 119).