I received an extraordinary amount of feedback on my Dec. 18 column related the proposed Bill 66.
As a result, I have decided to follow it up with some additional information.
On the surface, enacting a law that would allow everyone to bid on government construction projects sounds like a good idea.
This would follow along with the government’s general policy of being fair, open and transparent.
However, as they say, the devil is in the details. I have not seen any fact based information that provides this enormous savings that will be gained by an open tendering process.
For example, to name a few concerns, are future construction projects all going to be pre-qualified to attract qualified bidders? How will health and safety factor into the award process? Will past performance be part of the tender and RFP process? Will the contractors be required to have completed work of a similar nature?
I would imagine that few people would argue that union contractors have exceptional training and certification programs and have always been dedicated to the advancement of health and safety.
I have said for years that government has difficulties monitoring and measuring large scale construction projects, for reasons that are not necessarily the fault of the municipality, staff levels, experience in construction or otherwise.
Having said that, by opening the door to letting anyone bid, who is watching the store? When you base everything on the lowest price, corners get cut. I would like to see some more details as to how this bill will ensure that the same level of care will be taken by the construction industry to keep workers safe and keep to the government’s credo of “on time and on budget.”
Union contractors are a known factor and I will also acknowledge that many non-union contractors are equally qualified. My main issue is how the tender and RFP documents will reflect the high standards that are presently in place by the municipalities that are currently working with union affiliation.
As I mentioned in my previous column, the premium of 40 per cent allegedly paid to use union contractors is not based in fact.
I worry about the underground economy waiting in anticipation for this bill to pass. I am concerned that once this barn door is opened without regard for policy and procedure, it will be impossible to control.
The construction industry has made enormous advancements on every front in the past 10 years. I would not want to see any aspects of those gains erode through a rash bill with little discussion rushed through the government.
It is responsible, on behalf of the taxpayer, to have a comprehensive consultation with industry partners, union and non-union, to make sure we don’t slip back into the lowest bid mentality. These comments today are only part of the feedback I have received on both sides of the equation over the last several weeks. Never in the history of the construction industry has such a bill had the potential to affect so many people at one time.
Whatever side of Bill 66 that you fall on, you should be cognizant of the fact that once you go down this road it will be hard to turn back.
My only dog in this fight is the necessity to make sure this concept is backed up with the proper foundation in the documentation of the procurement process.
Approving the bill and then trying to figure out how to manage it later could create such dissention in the industry that it might result in catastrophic outcomes.
I recommend we all push the pause button and make sure we don’t get caught in the law of unintended consequences.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at email@example.com.
Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.