How to do business with the federal government was the topic of a panel discussion at the Ontario Road Builders’ Association’s 90th annual convention held recently at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto.
During the discussion attendees were able to learn how best to navigate working with various federal bodies.
"Essentially I am here to talk to you about whether or not the Government of Canada is a marketplace for you," said Manny Argiropoulos, who was representing the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises for Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), Ontario Region. "If you can determine that it is a marketplace, then you can figure out how to go about getting involved with us. There’s certain processes, rules and regulations that need to be adhered to and every business has to go through them."
Other panel experts who chimed in for the discussion included Heather Grondin, vice-president, communications and stakeholder relations, for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) and Roger Soler, manager of the Ontario Operations Branch of Infrastructure Canada.
According to Argiropoulos, the PSPC office does a lot of consultation with small and medium enterprises (SME) and welcomes feedback.
"We were created out of that need to make the federal procurement system more open, transparent, fair and accessible to everyone," said Argiropoulos. "The second component is reducing barriers for the Government of Canada’s federal procurement system for SMEs in particular because they’re the ones that find it more and more difficult to do business with us.
"If you have an issue with something that’s not working for you within that system don’t sit on it, you’re going to get frustrated, you’re going to think the system doesn’t work and you’re not going to get involved."
There are a lot of opportunities for small and large contracts, Argiropoulos added. The first step, he said, is to visit buyandsell.gc.ca to register and fill out a profile.
"It’s a $20 billion market but the bulk of the projects that are awarded by the Government of Canada are awarded for less than $80,000," he noted, adding out of the 18,000 contracts issued on an annual basis, 14,000 of those are awarded to SMEs.
A major procurement project the federal government is currently working on is the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Grondin shed some light into the project, which will provide a second border crossing between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich. over the Detroit River.
As a Canadian Crown Corporation, the WDBA’s mandate is to manage the procurement process for the design, build, financing, operations and maintenance of the new bridge which will be built through a public-private partnership (P3) and includes four major components — the bridge itself, the Canadian port of entry, the U.S. port of entry and the Michigan interchange to Interstate 75. The Herb Gray Parkway, an extension of Highway 401, is another key component of the project.
The RFP was issued to three proponents in Nov. 2016 with a fall 2017 deadline. The proposals will be evaluated and the preferred proponent/private sector partner will be identified in 2018. Construction is expected to start shortly thereafter.
"This project is a significant opportunity for Ontario-based workers, suppliers and contractors," explained Grondin. "Local contractors provide many benefits to international project teams which include proven experience in area construction projects, knowledge of local conditions and not having to provide travel or accommodations for out of town workers."
The size and the scope of the project is significant and will include concrete, bridge cables and only steel produced in Canada or the U.S. will be used. On top of this will be utility relocation and the construction of roads, ramps, buildings and parking. Contracts will be let by the private sector partner for equipment supplies and services and the final schedule and cost will be determined at the end of the procurement process, Grondin stated.
Infrastructure Canada is the federal partner responsible for providing infrastructure funding for a variety of projects including highways, roads, public transit and drinking water. It also provides funding for large strategic infrastructure projects of national significance.
"We have the money and provinces and municipalities have the need so we work in partnership with provinces, territories and municipalities to fund infrastructure," said Soler. "They’re the ones on the ground so it doesn’t make sense for us to be trying to steer from the back seat. We respect that relationship and we recognize that they are the ones that are in the best position to identify and prioritize key projects that they need funded."
When the Liberal government came into power a number of changes were made to the program including eliminating the P3 screening process which slowed projects down. They also simplified the project review process so large projects will move through the system much more quickly. The department is always working to make the process leaner to get shovels in the ground faster, Soler stated.
"We know money needs to get out the door so provinces and municipalities can reach out, get contracts out to tender and get the work done," he said.